Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a coronavirus stimulus and relief bill on Tuesday that includes provisions allowing legal cannabis businesses access to banking services, although the measure does not grant marijuana-related companies eligibility for federal small business loans. The bill, known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, was introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The bill, at more than 1,800 pages and with a price tag of $3 trillion, includes a wide-ranging collection of measures to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that is still spreading in the United States and globally. The bill includes another round of stimulus payments of up to $1,200 per person, aid for state and local governments, and relief for essential workers such as aviation and railroad employees.
“We are presenting a plan to do what is necessary to address the corona crisis,” Pelosi said in remarks at the Capitol announcing the legislation, explaining that the bill’s priorities were “opening our economy safely and soon, honoring our heroes, and then putting much needed money in the pockets of Americans.”
New Bill Includes SAFE Act
The measure also incorporates the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, a bill from Colorado Democratic Rep. Earl Perlmutter that would grant state-legal cannabis businesses access to traditional banking services. Due to federal money laundering statutes, cannabis companies are denied access to common services including credit card processing, loans, and deposit and payroll accounts. The laws force pot companies to deal largely in cash, increasing the risk of robbery and other crimes.
The SAFE Act would explicitly state that financial institutions are permitted to provide services to cannabis businesses that operate in compliance with state law. The measure was passed as a stand-alone bill by the House in September and has been awaiting action from the Senate since that time.
Keegan Peterson, the CEO of cannabis industry human relations and payroll firm Würk, applauded the House’s decision to include measures that would grant the cannabis industry access to vital banking services in the HEROES Act.
“Wurk has seen firsthand how legal cannabis companies were being held back by archaic banking regulations, and the current health crisis truly highlights how the industry would benefit from access to institutional capital and financial services,” he wrote in an email to High Times. “Our industry is an essential service that employs over 250,000 Americans, and we can only make positive contributions to the economy and our local communities if we are allowed to operate like any other mainstream business.”
Still No Small Business Loans for Pot Companies, Though
The HEROES Act, however, does not grant cannabis companies eligibility for loans from the Small Business Association, a point noted by Justin Strekal, the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“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,” he said. “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.”
Democrats hope to bring the HEROES Act up for a vote in the House, where its approval is likely. But the bill, which was not drafted with input from Republicans, will face opposition in the Senate. A separate measure from Perlmutter and Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act, would make cannabis businesses eligible for COVID-19 relief including federally-backed loans from the Small Businesses Administration.