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MARIJUANA MOMENT

Marijuana banking access included in House leadership’s coronavirus relief bill

Richard Vogel/Associated Press

Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.

House leadership unveiled a coronavirus relief bill Tuesday that includes legislation to protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

Advocates, stakeholders, and lawmakers have been pushing for some form of cannabis reform to be inserted into COVID-19 legislation. And this round, they were successful, with the language of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act making the cut.

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US Representative Ed Perlmutter, chief sponsor of the standalone bill that is being included in the new broad package, previously raised the issue in a Democratic Caucus meeting.

“The purpose of this section is to increase public safety by ensuring access to financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers and reducing the amount of cash at such businesses,” states the text of the provision, which is attached to the 1,815-page coronavirus relief package.

The House passed the SAFE Banking Act last year, and it’s since sat in limbo in the Senate Banking Committee. Negotiations over the bill have been ongoing, with Chairman Mike Crapo recommending a series of changes, but US Senator Cory Gardner saying a deal was “close.”

A House floor vote on the COVID-19 package is expected as early as Friday. It remains to be seen whether the Senate will go along with the banking provision’s inclusion.

Advocates have also been asking lawmakers to add language extending access to federal Small Business Administration relief programs to cannabis businesses in coronavirus legislation. That didn’t pan out in this package, however.

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Currently, SBA specifically prevents marijuana businesses from receiving COVID-related relief due to federal prohibition. That also includes companies that work indirectly with the industry, such as accounting and legal firms.

The new coronavirus bill does include a section that could help people with prior convictions to become eligible for the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

It stipulates that the agency’s lending service “shall include a statement that an applicant is not ineligible for assistance under this paragraph solely because of the applicant’s involvement in the criminal justice system.”

That provision seems responsive to a request that US Representatives Joe Kennedy III and Joyce Beatty made in a letter to leadership last month. The pair stressed that the current policy renders even those with cannabis possession convictions ineligible for PPP.

Read the text of the cannabis banking provisions of the coronavirus relief bill below:

Read the full story on Marijuana Moment.