Banking for marijuana companies included in HEROES Act coronavirus stimulus bill

Cannabis industry advocates applauded House Democrats on Tuesday after a new $3 trillion federal stimulus bill included provisions to allow marijuana businesses access to banking.

Introduced by House speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act includes wide-ranging goals to address the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, from offering financial assistance to state and local governments to forgiving student loan debt.

Wrapped into the massive, 1,815-page bill is an initiative led by Colorado Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow legal cannabis businesses to leverage traditional banking services.

Proponents of the bill, which passed the House on its own last September, say it promotes public safety by offering the marijuana industry an alternative to dealing in cash — a factor experts say is motivating an increasing number of burglaries at dispensaries and cultivations. The SAFE Banking Act has been under review by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs since last year.

“Our industry employs hundreds of thousands of Americans and has been deemed ‘essential’ in most states. It’s critically important that essential cannabis workers are not exposed to unnecessary health risks due to outdated federal banking regulations,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, in a statement. “On behalf of the legal cannabis industry, we commend the congressional leadership for prioritizing public health and safety by including sensible cannabis banking policy in this legislation.”

The SAFE Banking Act has, however, received a fair amount of pushback. On Tuesday, Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, disagreed with its inclusion, saying it would allow cartels and criminal syndicates access to the U.S. financial system. Marijuana should also be precluded because the industry was not forced to discontinue operations, he said.

“Numerous industries have been forced to completely shut down and have made great sacrifices to comply with shutdowns and limitations on their business operations. The marijuana industry has been a painfully obvious exception to this,” Sabet said in a statement. “The idea of including this industry in the relief package makes no sense.”

Numerous institutions and legislators, including Gov. Jared Polis, have called on Congress to provide some relief for the marijuana industry. Though dispensaries, cultivations and manufacturing facilities have been permitted to remain open throughout the coronavirus pandemic, businesses say they are still struggling. Neither plant-touching nor ancillary businesses, such as consulting and legal services, are currently eligible for federal aid.

The HEROES Act does not change that, said Morgan Fox, media relations director at the National Cannabis Industry Association. It does, however, prevent loan applicants from being disqualified based solely on having a criminal record. Perlmutter co-filed a separate bill, the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act, in late April that, if passed, would make marijuana companies eligible for COVID-19 relief programs.

“We are still hopeful that we can get traction on the standalone bill in the coming weeks,” Fox said.

The HEROES Act appears likely to pass the Democratic-controlled House, but was not negotiated with Republicans and faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“COVID-19 bills should provide targeted aid to those who need it. Pelosi’s latest ‘relief bill’ is 1,800 pages long and filled with liberal excess,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican. “I will stand against this massive $3 trillion Democrat wish list bill. Dems continue to show zero fiscal sanity.”

Denver Post staff writer Justin Wingerter contributed to this story. 

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