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The Cannabis Industry is Essential. Why aren’t Workers Protected under the CARES Act?

By John Zimmerman, PE


Today, you cannot go to any news outlet without seeing something about the COVID-19 pandemic. At this point it feels like everything has been said, every story has been covered. Maybe you were paying attention and caught this, but I feel one story that has been drastically underplayed is the essential business tag that has been placed on the cannabis industry and the lack of assistance the government is willing to provide to these small businesses.

Yes, you read that first part correctly: cannabis has been deemed an essential business by the states. If you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. The medical benefits of cannabis are undeniable, helping many people cope with sickness and disease where other “traditional” medications have failed. If cannabis businesses shut down, these patients would not have access to their medicine. Cannabis is legal in some form or fashion in 33 states and two-thirds of Americans believe cannabis should be legalized at the federal level. In addition, the industry directly employs over 240,000 people and contributes more than $1B in tax revenue annually to the government. It’s also one of the only industries hiring right now. All of this sounds like a pretty essential business to me.

The problem is the federal government disagrees. The SBA will not allow cannabis companies to be eligible for the financial assistance included in the CARES Act due to the federal legality issues. Additionally, and more egregiously, the SBA has determined, not by law but by its own internal policy, that companies are ineligible for financial assistance if they have derived any revenue in the previous year from selling products or services to state-legal cannabis companies. Never mind that the federal government is okay with cashing the tax checks written by these same companies, and in the case of “direct” cannabis companies, those checks are larger than their non-plant touching counterparts due to 280E.

Thanks to the hard work of the NCIA lobbying team there is a glimmer of hope as the offices of Congressman Blumenauer (D-OR) and Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) have asked congressional leadership to address this issue. If you are a cannabis business owner or an ancillary business owner, or if you work in the cannabis industry, or just support the industry, or even if you have nothing to do with the cannabis industry but you see the hypocrisy of the government in this situation, then I strongly urge all of you to visit the NCIA’s website and take action:

Our industry is unique, it was born and continues to grow as a result of dedicated activism by individuals that literally risked their freedom for what they believed was right. We owe it to those pioneers to continue the fight. We owe it to the business owners, the employees, and the patients to continue the fight. I implore all of you reading this, don’t be a bystander as the government allows the industry to wither away, make a call, send an email, raise awareness of this issue, do your part to keep the cannabis industry alive.