Democratic congressmen proposed a legislative solution Thursday for marijuana businesses struggling to stay afloat due to the economic impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado introduced a bill that would let marijuana businesses access federal assistance currently unavailable to the cannabis industry.
Titled the “Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act,” passage of the proposal would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to become eligible for government aid including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans emergency advances, providing lifelines currently unavailable due to pot being prohibited under federal law.
Thirty-three states have legalized marijuana to varying degrees, creating jobs for nearly a quarter-million workers throughout the U.S., according the fourth annual Leafly Jobs Report released in February.
But as industries practically across the board suffer because of COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by the novel coronavirus, marijuana businesses have found themselves ineligible for aid offered through the Small Business Administration due to their operations defying federal prohibition.
“As Congress seeks to provide relief to small businesses across America, chief among those being left out are state-legal cannabis businesses that are essential to communities and have met the demands of this crisis,” said Mr. Blumenauer, the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
“We should include state-legal cannabis in federal COVID-19 response efforts. Without providing these businesses the relief needed to carry out the recommended public health and worker-focused measures, we are putting these hard-working people — and ourselves — at risk,” Mr. Blumenauer said in a statement.
Mr. Blumenauer previously led a bipartisan letter signed by 34 colleagues last week urging House leadership to include marijuana businesses in future coronavirus relief efforts.
Ten members of the Senate — nine Democrats and Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent — sent a similar request on Wednesday this week to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
“Workers at state-legal cannabis small 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,” the senators wrote. “This lack of access to SBA assistance for cannabis small businesses will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary layoffs, reduced hours, pay cuts and furloughs for the workers who need support the most.”
Legal marijuana supported more than 243,000 full-time-equivalent jobs as of earlier this year, according to that Leafly Jobs Report released in February.
Most governors have recently enacted statewide restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, by temporarily shuttering businesses considered nonessential. More than 20 have deemed their state’s marijuana industry to be essential, allowing businesses such as medical and recreational dispensaries to remain open amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Across the country, an additional 4.4 million Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday. More than 26.5 million Americans have filed claims for unemployment benefits over the last five weeks on the heels of the first domestic cases of COVID-19 being confirmed in January.