House Bill Would Give Pot Industry Access to COVID-19 Business Relief

Marijuana dispensaries pay federal taxes, but aren't eligible for COVID-19 business relief packages.
Jacqueline Collins
Marijuana dispensaries pay federal taxes, but aren't eligible for COVID-19 business relief packages.
A bill just introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would give marijuana businesses access to federal COVID-19 economic relief funds.

Although deemed essential businesses by the states in which they're legal to operate, marijuana businesses have been excluded from federal aid packages created in response to the pandemic because of the plant's illegal status nationally. But the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act, introduced by Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, would make marijuana firms eligible for Small Business Administration services, including Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster loans.

Industrial hemp farmers have already been deemed eligible for federal aid, but state-legal marijuana industries and most of the businesses that serve them are still blocked. Blumenauer's bill would stipulate that state-legal businesses can't be barred from aid simply because they work with marijuana, and would protect government officials from any federal charges for providing money to a federally illegal business.

The bill gained an early sponsor in Colorado Representative Ed Perlmutter, whose bill proposing marijuana banking protection still sits in the Senate after passing through the House last year. A frequent ally with Blumenauer's marijuana reform efforts, Perlmutter was one of 34 Congress members calling on House leadership to include marijuana businesses in future federal economic aid packages.

“Workers at state-legal cannabis businesses are no different from workers at any other small business — they show up to work every day, perform their duties, and most importantly, work to provide for their families,” reads an April 17 letter from the 34 members of Congress to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “This lack of access will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary layoffs, reduced hours, pay cuts, and furloughs for the workers of cannabis businesses who need support the most.”

The Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act has fourteen more co-sponsors in the House, including Colorado representatives Jason Crow, Joe Neguse and Diana DeGette.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis also lent his voice to the inclusion of marijuana businesses, writing a letter to Crow to ask for more support for marijuana businesses in Washington, D.C.

“In an ideal world, Congress would include a provision in an upcoming bill guaranteeing that all state-legal cannabis businesses, direct and indirect, will be eligible for these loans," Polis wrote in the letter, adding that freezing marijuana businesses out of federal aid opened the door to a "devastating effect on our business community and tens of thousands of employees."

Since the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying stay-at-home orders began in late March, Colorado's marijuana industry has been on a bumpy ride. Worried customers, bulk purchasing, a stack of conflicting regulatory changes, the first round of IRS stimulus payments and April's 4/20 holiday have all combined for amplified highs and lows, according to dispensary owners and general managers.