(The Center Square) – Democratic leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives announced the filing of their Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act this week to further expand social safety net support for people and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Language in the omnibus includes the amended entirety of the SAFE Banking Act, which lifts the restrictions off of financial institutions looking to offer banking to state-legal marijuana companies.
A version of the bill was passed with bipartisan support in September 2019 and now has expanded support to assist financial institutions as applicable.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) believes that this bill is a bittersweet measure that doesn't go far enough.
"The inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in the CARES 2 package is a positive development, but one that’s akin to applying a band-aid to a gaping wound," said Justin Strekal, a lobbyist and political director for NORML. "In the majority of states, these cannabis businesses have been deemed essential during this pandemic. But at the federal level, they are being cast aside by Congress. Those small cannabis businesses facing tough economic times are essentially being told by Congress to shutter their doors and fire their employees.”
Strekal refers to the fact that cannabis business owners are still prevented under federal law to obtain economic support from agencies like the Small Business Administration (SBA). Even during the pandemic, the law prohibits state-legal businesses from accessing economic impact relief loans or the widely popular PPP loan.
"While larger, better capitalized players may be able to weather this storm, smaller cannabis businesses may not be able to do so absent some economic stimulus, " Strekal added. "By continuing to deny these small businesses eligibility to SBA assistance, it is possible that we could see an acceleration of the corporatization of the cannabis industry in a manner that is inconsistent with the values and desires of many within the cannabis space.”
The group also notes that at least 40 lawmakers in Congress have sent "dear colleague letters" to House Democratic leadership imploring for SBA reform through legislation.