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Democrats introduce bill to include cannabis businesses in coronavirus relief

Democrats introduce bill to include cannabis businesses in coronavirus relief
© Greg Nash

Reps. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerUS files first trade complaint against Mexico over tampered union vote at GM plant Battle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers Polluters: Clean up your own mess MORE (D-Ore.) and Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterDemocrats urge Biden to take executive action on assault-style firearms Colorado governor, spouse test positive for COVID-19 Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Colo.) have introduced a bill to make legal cannabis businesses eligible for federal coronavirus relief aid meant for small businesses. 

The legislation would grant the businesses eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans and other aid. A $483 billion interim coronavirus aid package, which will replenish the small-business lending program, is set to pass the House on Thursday, but it excludes marijuana companies from receiving aid. 

“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,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “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.”

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Cannabis lobbying groups have been pushing for eligibility for the aid since Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March, which also excluded marijuana companies.

Congress is looking ahead to the next coronavirus-related bill, which is expected to be another massive package, but timing for it is up in the air. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBipartisanship has become a partisan weapon Washington showing signs of normalcy after year of restrictions Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden MORE (R-Ky.) said it will not be negotiated until the Senate is able to return in full and debate.

The National Association of Cannabis Businesses said in a statement on Thursday that the group would continue advocating for financial relief for the industry.

“We are extremely disappointed that Congress again excluded legal cannabis businesses and thousands of their hardworking employees from the benefits of this legislation,” CEO Gina Kranwinkel said.

The anti-marijuana lobby is pushing back on pot businesses seeking relief, noting that marijuana sales have been up during the coronavirus pandemic in states that have allowed businesses to stay open. 

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“This bill should be a complete nonstarter in Congress. Record levels of Americans are finding themselves unemployed as businesses nationwide have been forced to close their doors in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19," Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said in a statement on Thursday.

"One notable exception to business closures has been the marijuana industry, which has quite publicly strong-armed leaders into reversing course on closures and even common sense limits on operations," Sabet added.

Blumenauer and Perlmutter led a letter last week, signed by dozens of members of Congress, asking House leadership to include these businesses in the interim coronavirus package.

“As you draft the next COVID-19 relief bill, we write to ask that you address one of the shortcomings of the CARES Act — the exclusion of state-legal cannabis businesses and their employees,” the letter read.

--This report was updated at 12:46 p.m.