Congressional lawmakers have introduced a legislative package to the US House of Representatives that would enable state-legal cannabis businesses to access federal financial support in the form of loans, relief measures and grants.
The package, comprising three bills, seeks to establish a level playing field for marijuana businesses currently hampered by cannabis’ federal classification as a Schedule I controlled substance. Despite this classification, 17 states have now legalized the plant for any purpose and the country’s state-legal marijuana industry boasts nearly 320,000 full-time jobs.
Since the majority of these jobs are in small businesses, the trio of bills focuses on support for these smaller operators, and are broadly similar to ones introduced to the House by the same lawmakers in 2019. Taken together, the three lawmakers intend the legislative package to reduce the costs of doing business for small cannabis enterprises in order to boost growth and encourage greater minority and low-income participation in the industry.
The first, sponsored by House Small Business Committee chairperson Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), would grant cannabis businesses access to funds from the federal Small Business Administration (SBA). The measure – Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Business Act – would mean the SBA could furnish marijuana entrepreneurs with microloans and disaster relief, as well as act as a guarantor for third-party loans. The main change compared to the 2019 version are clauses that would ensure SBA intermediaries, such as private lenders, could not refuse to participate solely out of an aversion to working with state-legal cannabis businesses.
The second federal financial support bill for cannabis businesses, sponsored by Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA), would establish a grant program under the auspices of the SBA to support state and local government licensing processes. Evans believes marijuana business licensing is currently a barrier of entry for those on low-incomes as the application procedure is costly and time-consuming. As such, the legislation – HR 2649 – stipulates grant money should be geared toward helping communities most harmed by the enforcement of marijuana prohibition.
“My bill would act as a poverty-buster and help homegrown small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy and our neighborhoods. We need to make sure that the booming legal cannabis industry does not become consolidated in the hands of a few big companies,” Evans said.
The final bill of the legislative package, sponsored by Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), echoes some of the clauses in Velazquez’s measure. It would prohibit organizations partnered with SBA from withholding their support and services solely on the basis of the business’s involvement with marijuana. This legislation, in particular, concerns SBA’s Small Business Development Centers, Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers and Women’s Business Centers, though it would apply to other partnering organizations as well.
“Our continued economic recovery depends on the health of American small businesses of all kinds. Especially in this environment, no Maine small business owner should be turned away from crucial SBA programs that could help them create jobs and lift up the economy,” said Rep. Golden.
In the meantime, House lawmakers recently approved a marijuana banking bill for state-legal businesses – the fourth time the House has done so – while top Senate lawmakers are busy preparing a more comprehensive federal cannabis legalization bill.