Feds Abandon Relief for Cannabis Businesses During COVID-19


Marijuana remains a federally-controlled, illegal drug. As a result, dispensaries and other cannabis businesses are ineligible to receive stimulus funds to help offset the devastating economic impacts caused by the novel COVID-19.  

While the Small Business Administration clarified that the hemp industry is eligible for benefits provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), it mandated that state-regulated marijuana companies are not eligible for payroll protection or disaster relief loans to lessen the blow of the coronavirus outbreak.  Forget that the cannabis industry has been among the fastest growing in the U.S., accounting for Federal, State, County, and City taxes on more than $13 billion in sales last year.

The Federal government is denying Payroll Protection Program benefits for the cannabis industry, which is overwhelmingly run by small business owners. They’re receiving no relief and no respect.

Unfortunately, as of the latest guidance from the SBA, marijuana businesses and even businesses ancillary to marijuana are likely ineligible to participate in federal assistance or the Program. It’s not just state cannabis retailers and growers that stands to miss out on federal relief loans amid the coronavirus crisis. In addition to that restriction, a wide range of businesses that indirectly service the cannabis industry are also ineligible under recently enacted legislation. You can see the greasy fingerprints of the Big Opponents to cannabis all over the recent legislation, like Big Alcohol and Big Pharma.

You’d think that this vital and vibrant industry would be gratifyingly protected by the Feds during the coronavirus pandemic, given that in 2019, the cannabis industry was directly responsible for more than 240,000 jobs.  Let’s just say that the Fed’s treatment of the cannabis industry is equivalent to how one would behave towards a red-haired, Cinderella-type step-daughter.

Blue & Red Governors

Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis explained, “Unfortunately, a large number of small businesses in Colorado are not eligible for these loans due to their involvement in the state-legal cannabis industry, which is a major employer and tax revenue generator in our state.”  You tell them, JP.  

When you cannot take the cash generated by an industry and deposit it into a bank, or face charges of drug trafficking, it’s hard enough to conduct your business under states’ shelter in place orders. This is precisely why cannabis should receive Federal protections.

At least Gov. Polis declared that cannabis dispensaries are essential businesses, able to remain open during the pandemic.  That’s more than can be said for Massachusetts, where Republican Gov. Charlie D Baker, Jr. closed all cannabis shops, forcing most of these employees into unemployment rolls.  Gov. Baker’s so-called reason? Keeping shops open would draw customers from other states, who would bring coronavirus into The Bay State.  This should come as no surprise, because like so many other Republican Governors, Gov. Baker was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the era of well-regulated, legal marijuana, at least under State law.

Cannabis businesses actually sued Gov. Baker over his decision to shut down recreational pot businesses in his response to the public health crisis. The businesses said that the closures would irreparably harm the burgeoning industry. A Suffolk Superior Court judge denied the request by a group of recreational marijuana businesses to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

What’s the lesson that can be drawn from Gov. Baker’s closure of cannabis businesses? When there is a chance to slow down or push back on the cannabis industry, Republicans cannot help themselves. He took a page straight out of the Republican Playbook on the cannabis question – deny access, delay any legislative action, and when the people overwhelming vote to legalize access to cannabis, trip and knee cap the industry any way you can.

4/20 Holiday

April 20, or 4/20, is known as “Weed Day” because the date corresponds with a numerical code for cannabis. Are you ready for a different kind of 4/20 holiday? It’s more than just a stoner holiday – it’s a cultural phenomenon and economic juggernaut.

In recent years, as cannabis has grown in mainstream acceptance and legality, 4/20 has been marked with parties and concerts as well as stadium-sized festivals. The celebrations may still go on, but revelers and organizers must pivot from real-world to virtual gatherings and events. 

Let’s use the 4/20 holiday to reaffirm the roll we want cannabis to play in our lives, and hope that one good thing that can come out of this crisis is to make material changes to our way of life.  Let’s get rid of ignorance in all forms, especially involving our beloved plant.

While any expectation from the current occupant of the White House to act on behalf of the cannabis world is highly unlikely, perhaps some Governors will get on board and help cannabis as they are helping so many other industries.  The only thing these child-like approaches by politicos do is to fuel a black or gray market for sale under the table, and reduce tax revenues that they find so juicy.