Wyden, Merkley Call For SBA To Accept Loan Application From Cannabis Business In Cannabis-Legal States

Oregon senators: “SBA loans would be especially helpful to cannabis small businesses because they would fill gaps left by the private sector.”

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today announced they are requesting that the Small Business Administration (SBA) be prohibited from denying loan applications to cannabis small businesses in states like Oregon that have legalized cannabis use.

In the Oregon lawmakers’ letter to Senate colleagues overseeing SBA appropriations, they urged language prohibiting the SBA loan denials to cannabis businesses by noting the clear shift in public opinion toward supporting legal cannabis and the tax revenues these businesses generate for states.

“States collected an estimated $1.3 billion in tax revenue from legal cannabis sales in 2018,” Wyden and Merkley wrote. “However, SBA’s current policy excludes small businesses with ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ products or services that aid the use, growth, enhancement, or other development of cannabis from SBA-backed financing. Consequently, small businesses in states with some form of legal cannabis must choose between remaining eligible for SBA loan programs, or doing business with a rapidly-growing and legal industry.”

The SBA’s loan programs provide financial assistance in the form of loans and loan guarantees to small businesses who cannot easily access capital, a problem disproportionally faced by minority entrepreneurs.

“Currently, most banks are reluctant to serve cannabis businesses due to conflicts with federal law, meaning that these businesses often are forced to operate using purely cash, creating an unsafe operation,” the senators wrote. “SBA loans would be especially helpful to cannabis small businesses because they would fill gaps left by the private sector. Access to these SBA loan programs could ensure that small businesses – especially those led by our minority, women, and veteran entrepreneurs – can raise money for their ventures and support job creation.”

The letter comes in addition to legislation sponsored by Wyden and Merkley that would make cannabis businesses eligible for SBA assistance, forbid Small Business Development Centers and Women’s Business Centers from declining to serve those businesses, establish the Cannabis Opportunity Program for SBA microloans and provide grants to minimize barriers for under-represented groups to participate in cannabis businesses.

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, other co-signers of the letter led by U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) include U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Kamala D. Harris (D-CA).

A copy of the entire letter is here.

Merkley Cosponsors Landmark Bill To End Federal Prohibition Of Marijuana

Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of policy that has disproportionately impacted communities of color, low-income communities

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley has announced his cosponsorship of a landmark bill to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. Senator Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, making it legal at the federal level.

Merkley has been a leader within in the Senate on several marijuana-related issues, spearheading bipartisan efforts to enable banks to serve legal cannabis businesses so they don’t have to operate in all cash, and to empower VA doctors to advise veterans on marijuana use in medical marijuana states. In 2014, he was the first U.S. Senator to support legalizing recreational marijuana.

“More than half of the United States has enacted legislation allowing for either medical or adult-use of cannabis, yet federal law remains in conflict,” said Senator Merkley. “This creates significant problems, not only with the prosecution of nonviolent cannabis crimes — which disproportionately hurts people of color — but also with lack of banking services for legally operating businesses. As long as financial institutions aren’t able to service cannabis enterprises, these businesses are forced to operate in an all-cash environment that’s unsafe and lacks accountability. This bill would place cannabis legalization in the hands of states — exactly where it should be.”

“I’m thrilled that Senator Merkley is joining our effort to make our criminal justice system more consistent with the words inscribed above our Supreme Court – equal justice under the law. The War on Drugs has been a war on people – and most often people of color and low-income individuals,” said Senator Booker. “I have seen firsthand the ways these policies have harmed neighborhoods, and I know that far too many innocent people in low-income communities and communities of color are having their futures destroyed by the disproportionate enforcement of these laws. It’s time for us to abandon the destructive federal prohibition of marijuana and focus our energy on righting the wrongs of the War on Drugs and prioritizing public safety and human potential.”

Merkley is the fifth Senator to cosponsor the Senate bill, along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In addition to these cosponsors, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced a companion measure in the House of Representatives earlier this year that has 35 cosponsors.

In addition to removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances, the bill would incentivize states through federal funds to change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income individuals and/or people of color. The bill is retroactive and would apply to those already serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, providing for a judge’s review of marijuana sentences.

Specifically, the Marijuana Justice Act will:

  • Remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, making it legal at the federal level;
  • Incentivize states through federal funds to change their marijuana laws if marijuana in the state is illegal and the state disproportionately arrests or incarcerates low-income individuals or people of color for marijuana-related offenses;
  • Automatically expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes;
  • Allow an individual currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana use or possession crimes to petition a court for a resentencing;
  • Create a community reinvestment fund to reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs and allow those funds to be invested in the following programs:
    • Job training;
    • Reentry services;
    • Expenses related to the expungement of convictions;
    • Public libraries;
    • Community centers;
    • Programs and opportunities dedicated to youth; and
    • Health education.