Cannabis HEROES: Safeguarding Legal Weed in the Face of the Pandemic

Cannabis Flower, Edibles, pre-rolls
Cannabis Flower, Edibles, pre-rolls

Imagine you aren’t allowed to have a bank account or a credit card. You have to use cash for everything—rent, your power bill, your cell service, even insurance. Whenever you get your paycheck, you have to cash it out and find someplace to keep it safe. If you get robbed, that’s it, you’re broke. That’s what it’s like for legal weed shops right now. The cannabis banking provisions in the HEROES Act changed all of that.

Here in Oregon, weed possession and sale is legal, but cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I controlled substance according to the federal government. Even though marijuana is legal locally, dispensaries can’t open bank accounts or apply for financial insurance because federally regulated financial institutions suffer penalties for doing business with cannabis retailers. Basically, that means that there’s no safety net if things go south, unlike nearly every other legitimate business in America.

You can imagine how difficult it is to run a company like that—and scary! There’s a ton paperwork. Between the paper forms and all the records that are needed, it can take up to fifteen minutes to process a single order to deliver weed—at least here in Portland, Oregon. Working exclusively with cash is inherently dangerous too. It makes marijuana dispensaries a hot target for crime. Fortunately, there’s new legislation that’ll change this, and many other things.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019 includes a provision that allows banks to serve legal marijuana businesses without fear of fine or penalty. That means dispensaries can store their money in banks, get insurance, and apply for federal assistance like federally insured small business loans. Instead of relying on cash, weed shops can use credit and debit cards, increasing security for both their businesses and their customers. Sounds great, right?

The SAFE Act was already approved back in the fall of 2019 by the U.S. House of Representatives (yay!) but it was been stuck in a Senate subcommittee for over a year(boo!)—until October, 2020 (oh good, yay again!). Responding to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the House of Representatives passed a new $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which included the SAFE Act! Cannabis businesses (cannabusinesses, for short) are essential businesses, and one thing the HEROES Act did was make them eligible for the same protections and benefits as other essential businesses. It also requires an Annual Diversity and Inclusion Report, to investigate what barriers minority-owned cannabis businesses face when entering the market and accessing financial services. If (and when) this report reveals systemic discrimination, it empowers the Comptroller General of the United States to recommend changes to Congress. As a Black-owned cannabis delivery service, we think this is great. The negative consequences of the War on Drugs have undeniably been worse for People of Color than anyone else, and legalization has been slower to redress these wrongs than any of us hoped.

So what’s the result? Weed stores have become safer for everyone, cannabusinesses can protect their investments, and the playing field is becoming more level and fair for everyone. Even better, revenue from legal weed dispensaries can finally enter the mainstream economy—if marijuana were legalized nationally, that could be almost $130 billion. The HEROES Act was signed into law by former President Trump in December of 2020.

If you want to learn more about the legal side of weed, you’ll love our article on how cannabis delivery works in Portland, Oregon.