Marijuana users are generally thought to be a pretty mellow bunch. However, that wasn’t the case last month after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced plans to close “nonessential” businesses, including pot shops.
The decision set off a wave of freaked-out panic buying in the capital city seldom seen anywhere other than supermarket toilet paper aisles. The mayor quickly reversed himself, declaring that the products sold at marijuana-related businesses and liquor stores did qualify as essentials after all.
When Gov. Jared Polis expanded the closure of nonessential businesses statewide, he wisely carved out an exception for marijuana-related businesses. In Solomon-like fashion, Polis decreed that in-store pot sales would be restricted, but pickup or delivery orders still were allowed.
It was a small victory for common sense. Our state’s political leaders recognized that people would be more likely to follow stay-at-home orders if they were able to ease the frustrations of confinement with booze and pot.
Even though marijuana businesses have been permitted to continue operating on a limited basis, they are feeling the financial pain associated with the coronavirus, just as most other types of businesses are. One important difference is that marijuana businesses aren’t eligible for assistance from the federal government.
The stimulus package approved by Congress included a significant amount of money for loans to help small businesses stay solvent during this crisis. For some, those loans may well mean the difference between surviving and shutting their doors forever.
Yet the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which means no federal help will go to businesses in that industry. Or potentially even companies that provide support services to businesses in the marijuana industry.
This exposes a basic flaw in the federal government’s approach toward marijuana. More and more states continue to legalize the drug for medical and recreational uses, but the feds are trying to operate in a different reality.
In the real world, there’s a thriving market for marijuana because it’s a product that people want. There’s still a debate about the health risks the drug poses, but health risks haven’t kept other products like alcohol or tobacco off of store shelves.
In Colorado and other states where the drug is legal, marijuana businesses provide jobs and tax revenues our economy needs. Should the job of someone working the cash register at a marijuana shop be at greater risk than the same job at a convenience store? We don’t think so. But that’s the way it will be unless the feds change their rules about which businesses can qualify for the stimulus money.
Before the coronavirus hit, there had been efforts at the federal level to change the laws so marijuana-related businesses could work more easily with banks or other financial institutions. It seemed like some progress was being made on that front, just not quickly enough to make a difference in the situation we’re now facing.
In the short term, we believe federal officials need to follow the example of leaders like Hancock and Polis by recognizing the value marijuana businesses have in the states where they legally operate. And by making those types of businesses eligible for emergency financial aid.
In the longer term, the feds should drop their prohibition on marijuana, either by legalizing it nationwide or else leaving it up to states to make their own laws without interference.
That would be one positive outcome we could take away from this mess.