While other Oregon businesses have taken $7 billion in federal bailout money since the start of the pandemic and through August, cannabis companies cannot qualify.
Even though the industry, from farm to store, contributed $133 million to state coffers this fiscal year, its products are considered a banned substance, the most restricted by the Drug Enforcement Agency.
That means these businesses cannot qualify for Paycheck Protection Program loans; they can’t file for bankruptcy protection or use a federally insured bank. And after wildfires wiped out the towns of Talent and Phoenix in Southern Oregon, cannabis companies weren’t able to qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency relief loans or funds.
Yet, at the height of the pandemic, Gov. Kate Brown deemed cannabis firms essential businesses and the regulatory agency, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, raced to adopt rules that made for contactless transactions. In September, the OLCC made curbside pickup permanent to help the industry, but many had to quickly launch online shopping platforms.
This adaptability is the hallmark of the cannabis industry, said Beau Whitney, economist at Whitney Economics headquartered in Portland.
“The conflict is a stark reminder of how there’s this disconnect between a robust industry like cannabis and an antiquated federal law that classifies cannabis,” Whitney said. “It wouldn’t take much in terms of federal reform to provide these companies with a safety net. This isn’t like a huge bail out for an airline or the banking industry.”
By allowing curbside pickup, cannabis companies could maintain social distancing and protect the employees and the customers, Whitney said. There are about 22,500 people employed in the recreational cannabis industry in Oregon, he said.
Jeremy Kwit, who owns three Substance stores in Bend, said the curbside pickup helped keep the store compliant with federal workplace laws, like the Americans With Disabilities