House’s Second Stimulus Bill Includes Unexpected Cannabis Legislation

The new stimulus bill passed by the U.S. Congress on Friday included legislation that would do wonders for the cannabis industry in the U.S. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act — or HEROES Act — is meant to help the economy stabilize and recover throughout the coronavirus pandemic. That includes the cannabis industry, which would get access to traditional banking services if Congres passed the legislation.

According to a report by The Denver Post, the HEROES Act includes an initiative called the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking ACT — SAFE Act — in its entirety. The SAFE Act allows legal cannabis businesses to leverage traditional banking services. It was spearheaded by Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, as his state was one of the first to adopt marijuana legalization in recent years. This provision would do a lot for the fledgling cannabis industry in the states where it is legal. Still, some opponents say it is too partisan for lawmakers to include in a coronavirus relief bill.

The SAFE Act passed through the House on its own last September but has since been stuck in the Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Right now, cannabis businesses in the states where it is legal have to deal only in cash, which experts say poses a public safety threat, as it spurs burglaries at dispensaries and other locations.

Perlmutter and others argue that the Americans employed at these businesses have a right to their safety, regardless of lawmakers' thoughts on their product. The executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, Aaron Smith, told the Post that the businesses themselves deserve a fighting chance at such an uncertain time for the economy.

"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 It's critically important that essential cannabis workers are not exposed to unnecessary health risks due to outdated federal banking regulations," Smith said. "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."

Some opponents pushed back on this idea, sparking a debate about how much the cannabis industry has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. No part of the industry is eligible for federal aid as other businesses are. Yet, Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, pointed out that, unlike other sectors, government orders have not forced the cannabis industry to limit or shut down operations.

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"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. "The idea of including this industry in the relief package makes no sense."

The debate is sure to pick up in the United States Senate, where the HEROES Act must still pass to become law. For the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization.