Cannabis-related businesses are at the front of a new industry with plenty of room to grow, but they lack access to some basic tools that start-ups in other industries have. That may soon change.
Federal prohibition has prevented the cannabis sector from accessing significant resources. After hearing from industry advocates, U.S. House Small Business Committee Chair Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) introduced a bill this month called the Ensuring Safe Capital Access for Small Business Act of 2019. The bill would allow cannabis-related businesses to be eligible for loans backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
“As our society continues to move the needle on this issue, we must recognize that legal cannabis businesses are often small businesses that fuel local economies and create new jobs,” Velázquez said in a press release.
As most traditional banks also won’t work with cannabis-related businesses because of banking regulations and unclear rules for cannabis, it would be a game-changer for many cannabis companies to be able to get micro-loans, disaster assistance, and loan guarantees backed through the SBA. Private investments and complicated ownership contracts have had to be the norm for many cannabis businesses since safer, more traditional loans weren’t an option.
The bill is also aimed at helping entrepreneurs from disadvantaged communities in particular. Velázquez said in a tweet, “I’ve authored legislation to let disadvantaged entrepreneurs in this space access SBA loans. We must ensure women, people of color and others in this new market secure financing.”
What kind of capital could a cannabis-related company access if this bill passes? Up to $5 million in loans from the SBA, and up to $3.75 million could get a total SBA guarantee from any one borrower.
But Velázquez’s bill is not the only one out there focused on bringing cannabis-related businesses into the fold of the SBA. Another bill from House Representative Jared Golden (D-ME) was introduced called the Ensuring Access to Counseling and Training for All Small Businesses Act. This bill takes on another aspect of the SBA: it’s wide array of training and business development services. Golden’s bill would no longer be allowed to turn away an eager learner just because they are from a cannabis-related business. Currently, the SBA is having to turn away small businesses who really need their services.
A third bill is also in circulation after being sponsored by Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA): the Homegrown Act. If passed as-is, local governments would be able to help small businesses with the cannabis licensing process among other things through grants.
The prospect of these three cannabis business bills is uncertain, though none has died in committee yet. And they’re not the only cannabis-related bills passing through Congress. The SAFE Banking Act would pave the way for banks to work with cannabis businesses, and that bill has seen wide support. Thirty-eight attorneys general signed a letter urging Congress to pass it, and negotiations continue. Even California has a banking bill in the works called SB 51 that would allow state-chartered banks to work with cannabis businesses.
Many bills are in motion, but it remains to be seen what will pass.