Both Democrat and GOP Senate leaders should be looking for concrete opportunities to lift American job prospects and address specific needs in communities of color. This next step of economic stimulus should look to a new frontier for minority business and investment.
At the beginning of 2020, the legal cannabis industry employed 243,700 Americans, making it one of America’s greatest job creators.
But as the legal cannabis industry has boomed, many African American and women entrepreneurs have been left behind. The reason for this is a lack of access to capital.
These problems are being confounded by the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on people of color. Jobless rates have soared to 16.7 percent for Black Americans and to 18.9 percent for Hispanic Americans, reversing pre-pandemic record employment levels. Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation commented that this offers “the first true glimpse of how young people, women, and Black, Latinx Americans are disproportionately suffering from the current economic crisis.”
Many states have made social equity a pillar of their cannabis reform policies, and organizations like the National Cannabis Roundtable have invested heavily in their own social equity programs. These programs will go a long way toward achieving equity in the cannabis space and righting the wrongs of the War on Drugs that has overwhelmingly harmed African Americans. However, real change will only come when there is equal access to capital markets.
Congress can address this issue by passing the SAFE Banking Act, ensuring that legal cannabis businesses, who were deemed essential businesses at this time of COVID-19, and those eager to break into the legal market have access to fundamental banking services.
The House of Representatives passed the SAFE Banking Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. It also has broad support among elected officials and policymakers. The U.S. Treasury Secretary, 20 governors, 38 attorneys general, the American Bankers Association, the Minority Cannabis Business Association, the National Association of State Treasurers, 25 state banking regulators and bank trade associations from all 50 states have voiced support for cannabis banking reform.
There is also plenty of common ground for Senate leadership to find on this bill. From hemp growers in Kentucky to Wall Street traders in New York, our Republican and Democratic Senate leaders, respectively, have reason to see their states benefit directly. And nationally, we need to use all of the tools we have available to grow the economy and get Americans back to work.
All of this would come at no cost to taxpayers, and only continue to add momentum to the criminal justice reform debate. It will also contribute to investments in medicines, community reinvestment and programs that benefit patients.
There is no simple or single solution to addressing all the challenges this novel industry will face as we move toward an end to federal prohibition of marijuana. However, opening financial markets to the cannabis industry will mean more opportunities for women and minority owned businesses.
It is imperative we move forward together and that Congress pass the SAFE Banking Act.
Dr. Chanda Macias, MBA, Ph.D., is first vice-chair of the National Cannabis Roundtable, the owner of National Holistic Healthcare, CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare and chairwoman & CEO of Women Grow.
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