Democrats in the House of Representatives on Monday unveiled a new bill to address the ongoing economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill, a pared-down version of the HEROES Act passed by the body earlier this year, continues support for cannabis banking provisions as it seeks to provide relief to American workers, families, businesses, and schools.

In May, the House approved the HEROES Act to continue the nation’s response to the pandemic, but the Senate balked at the $4.4 billion price tag and declined to consider the measure. The new version of the bill, at $2.2 billion, was released by Democrats on Monday in an effort to restart failed talks with Republicans in the Senate and the Trump administration.

“Democrats are making good on our promise to compromise with this updated bill, which is necessary to address the immediate health and economic crisis facing America’s working families right now,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to fellow Democrats. “We have been able to make critical additions and reduce the cost of the bill by shortening the time covered for now.”

Like the original version, the new bill includes the provisions of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, a measure that would permit financial institutions to serve the legal cannabis industry. The House passed the bill as a stand-alone measure last autumn and again with its approval of the HEROES Act in May.

Cash Is King In The Cannabis Industry

Due to federal money laundering statutes, legal cannabis companies are denied access to common services including credit card processing, loans, and deposit and payroll accounts. The laws force businesses in the industry to deal largely in cash, increasing the risk of robbery and other crimes. The SAFE Act would explicitly permit financial institutions to provide services to cannabis businesses that operate in compliance with state law. 

“The inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in the HEROES 2.0 package is a positive development,” said Justin Strekal, the political director for the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “In the majority of states that regulate the marijuana marketplace, cannabis businesses have been deemed essential during this pandemic. Unfortunately, at the federal level, prohibition compounds the problems that this emerging industry faces. Small cannabis businesses in particular are facing tough economic times and access to traditional financial tools will help ensure that they can weather this pandemic.” 

“Without access to much needed capital to maintain throughout the crisis, it is possible that we could see an acceleration of the corporatization of the cannabis industry in a manner that is inconsistent with the values and desires of many within the cannabis space,” Strekal added. “Enactment of the SAFE Banking Act would ensure that small businesses could compete in this emerging marketplace.”

The new version of the relief package also includes another round of $1,200 stimulus payments for most taxpayers and reinstates the expired $600 weekly unemployment insurance enhancement. Support for schools, small businesses, airline workers, health insurance, food security, and other pandemic relief provisions are also included in the bill.

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