A coalition of marijuana reform and civil rights groups sent a letter to congressional leaders on Monday, urging them to give cannabis businesses access to the federal coronavirus relief funds that are available to companies in any other industry.
The Marijuana Justice Coalition (MJC)—which consists of 13 organizations, including ACLU, NORML, Drug Policy Alliance and Human Rights Watch—said that future COVID-19 stimulus packages should include provisions enabling the cannabis sector to receive loans and lending services through the federal Small Business Administration (SBA).
SBA specifically prohibits marijuana companies—and even those that work indirectly with the industry such as accounting and legal firms—from accessing relief appropriated through coronavirus-related legislation. That could have a disproportionate impact on minority-owned marijuana businesses, MJC members wrote.
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the marijuana industry already struggled with inclusivity and diversity in ownership and operations, as well as countless barriers to the industry for people directly impacted by marijuana criminalization,” they said, adding that while many states have allowed cannabis shops to operate as essential services during the health crisis, these businesses are still experiencing financial challenges amid social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
The coalition was formed in July 2019 with the aim of working to “frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws.”
Its other members include the Center for American Progress, Center for Law and Social Policy, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, National Association of Social Workers and JustLeadershipUSA.
Challenges caused by the coronavirus outbreak will “disproportionately hit minority-owned businesses the hardest—jeopardizing efforts to make the industry more reflective of communities directly affected by marijuana prohibition,” the groups wrote in the new letter. “Workers in the state-legal marijuana industry are no different than other sectors of the economy who show up to work every day to provide for their families. If marijuana businesses are unable to survive, the lives of millions of patients registered in state medical marijuana programs and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of marijuana workers will be under threat.”