The Cannabis Industry Is Included in Latest COVID-19 Stimulus Bill

The SAFE Cannabis Banking Act has had a revival by being included in the latest Coronavirus stimulus bill. But will it pass?

On Friday, the Democrat-led House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, (the HEROES Act) by a vote of 208-199. The Act is said to cost roughly USD $3 trillion, nearly twice the cost of the previous stimulus bill known as the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) which was believed to cost USD $1.7 billion.

Having passed through the House of Representatives, the HEROES Act must now be approved by the majority-Republican senate if it is to go into effect, which may pose problems for the fledgling stimulus package. Several key Republicans have already expressed dissatisfaction with the Act, with Majority leader, Mitch McConnell describing the HEROES Act as a "liberal wish list" and "an unserious product from an unserious majority."

Furthermore, the Trump Administration has swatted the bill, stating that the President will veto the HEROES Act if it becomes necessary.

The reason the HEROES Act has caused such a stir is because Republicans see it as a partisan laundry list of Democrat demands, including provisions for minority-owned businesses, environmental organisations, formerly incarcerated individuals and perhaps most controversially, the cannabis industry.

In fact, when discussing his qualms with the Act, Republican leader Mitch McConnell stated:

"The word 'cannabis' appears in this bill 68 times. More times than the word 'job' and four times as many as the word 'hire.'" Mitch McConnell, Republican leader

Mr. McConnell went on to say that "The House gave themselves no assignments for two months except developing this proposal. Yet it still reads like the Speaker of the House pasted together random ideas from her most liberal members and slapped the word 'coronavirus' on top of it."

What's so Controversial About the Bill?

There's a famous political adage which says that one should "never let a good crisis go to waste." In essence, when there is an issue such as we currently have with the COVID-19 pandemic, it can serve as the perfect opportunity to promote ones political agenda.

This partisan interpretation of the crisis has already occurred to some extent, with Republicans and more right-leaning individuals calling for a reopening of the economy, and Democrats and those on the left side of the aisle urging for a more cautious approach.

The HEROES Act is no different. The Act was introduced by Democrats and does indeed include many provisions that would appease Democrat voters and constituents, likely with full expectations that Republicans will amend some of their provisions in exchange for items that suit their own political agenda – such is the nature of politics.

So how are the cannabis provisions partisan? First, let's unpack precisely what the cannabis provisions within the HEROES Act are.

In effect, on page 1,066 of the HEROES Act you can find the provisions for the The Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Marijuana Banking Act that was passed by the House of Representatives 321-103 in September last year.

The SAFE Act seeks to provide protection for financial institutions who choose to provide loans to cannabis businesses in states where the plant is legal, effectively opening the floodgates for cannabis companies to gain access to loans, as well as handling their cash through banks rather than in paper form.

As it stands currently, start-up cannabis businesses may easily fail due to their inability to access loans, which many are calling a new form of redlining.

Despite passing in the House of Representatives, the SAFE Act now sits in legislative limbo, at the feet of the Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID), who stated that he has "significant concerns remain that the SAFE Banking Act does not address the high level potency of marijuana, marketing tactics to children, lack of research on marijuana's effects, and the need to prevent bad actors and cartels from using the banks to disguise ill-gotten cash to launder money into the financial system."

Will The Cannabis Provisions Remain in the COVID-19 Stimulus?

There are many justifiable reasons for the cannabis industry to be included in the latest coronavirus stimulus package. Cannabis dispensaries have been deemed "essential" due to their ability to serve medical patients, they've seen a spike in sales across the U.S. and Canada all throughout the economic downturn that has accompanies the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cannabis industry is the fastest-growing sector and number one job creator in the U.S.

Not to mention that despite all of these reasons, the cannabis industry was not included in the first coronavirus stimulus package, leaving one of the few thriving industries during COVID-19, to fend for themselves. It's clear the cannabis industry is not only here to stay, but it's here to grow, so the restrictions on access to financial institutions placed upon the industry seem both anachronistic and cruel.

However, with all that being said, it seems unlikely that the cannabis provisions will remain in the HEROES Act. When discussing the partisanship of the HEROES Act, one of the first things mentioned by Republicans are the cannabis industry provisions. This suggests that if the HEROES Act is to be passed in the Republican-majority Senate, one of the first things they'll knock off of the Act will be the SAFE Banking provisions.

In fact, it's likely that Democrats have introduced many of these ostensibly partisan facets of the Act knowing that some of them will inevitably be rejected by Republicans. It's the equivalent of "aiming high" in a negotiation. Democrats tack on more than Republicans will accept, Republicans eliminate a majority of these provisions, and the two meet somewhere in the middle.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the middle in this case, may not include the cannabis industry.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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