Sen. Ron Wyden Fights for Cannabis Businesses in COVID-19

Current regulations prevent cannabis businesses from accessing small business loans

Although loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) are supposed to help small businesses facing economic hardship due to COVID-19, the cannabis industry has been left out due to outdated regulations.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jack Rosen led the charge of eight other senators — including Jeff Merkley — imploring the SBA to allow the cannabis industry access to loans by writing a letter to congressional leaders. The letter urges Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to include these businesses in all upcoming relief funding.

In a phone interview with Eugene Weekly, Wyden says this issue is about fairness for those working in the cannabis industry.

“It is a matter of basic fairness,” he says. “It’s not about winners and losers, we are talking about fairness.”

On April 23, Congress approved $310 billion dollars in funding for small business loans. But the current SBA regulations exclude small businesses with direct or indirect products or services that aid the “use, growth, enhancement or other development of cannabis” from receiving financial help from SBA, which includes the Paycheck Protection Program from the federal CARES Act.

During COVID-19, cannabis stores, like grocery and liquor stores, have been allowed to remain open as essential businesses with social distancing measures in place. In the letter, Wyden says they are requesting for cannabis businesses to have access to this type of financial help so that all small businesses in the country can protect their economic well-being.

But making changes to regulations all comes down to the Trump administration, Wyden says.

“What this shows is the Trump administration and the Senate Republicans are just in the Dark Ages and behind the times when it comes to cannabis politics,” Wyden says. He adds that these local businesses are law-abiding by Oregon voters.

This situation, he explains, is bizarre because the SBA is essentially picking winners and losers. And the losers may end up struggling more. Some cannabis businesses are doing well, Wyden says, but others are struggling with no way to get the help other businesses are receiving from the SBA.

With the first round of funding from the CARES Act, the SBA was criticized for handing out loans to chain businesses, who lobbied for a loophole allowing them to receive loans as long as each business location had less than 500 employees.

Wyden says there are more than 200,000 cannabis businesses in Oregon, which doesn’t even include indirect direct businesses. Most of these businesses only employ a handful of people and would be qualified for a loan if the SBA regulations were changed.

“I’m not backing down,” he says. Not like this, no. The Trump administration has always been inconsistent on these issues generally.”