June 2020 - Oregon Leaf The Leisure Issue

Page 16

EXPERT OPINION

Economic Equality in a ‘New Normal’ The panic of a global pandemic hardly seems like a stable driving force for the Cannabis movement and yet, hope has cropped up from our country’s current situation. While a significant social awakening is unlikely, it does seem that those long opposed to the plant are being forced to reckon with its potential. States are starting to lift lockdown restrictions and as public life proceeds cautiously, there’s no doubt that an adjustment period is ahead. But the ‘new normal’ will need to include some changes that this community’s been fighting for long before a pandemic underlined the importance.

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everal factors directly related to the outbreak of COVID-19 have escalated the urgency of economic equality. Cannabis businesses are functioning alongside all of the other essential establishments, but they are afforded little of the same assistance or protections. Insuring and banking are particularly tricky in the industry, as federal classifications restrict institutions from accepting money generated by the controlled substance. Some dispensaries get by with banking or card services, but the outbreak of a highly contagious virus highlights the risk of conducting cash transactions for those that can’t finagle financial establishments. Advocacy groups like the National Cannabis Industry Association, Americans for Safe Access, NORML and others are pushing for amended banking legislation - but these efforts have been in motion for years. The House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (better known as the SAFE Act) back in March of 2019, where it then moved on for review in the Senate. It’s been sitting there ever since. But the most recent coronavirus aid package (known as the HEROES Act) may just offer another chance. It includes the SAFE Act for the purpose of increasing “public safety” and “reducing the amount of cash at such businesses.” It’s still uncertain if the HEROES Act will pass with the current language, but the SAFE Act is long overdue - with or without it.

In February 2020 alone, Oregon collected $9,238,148 in Cannabis taxes. But while officials in legal states happily continue to accept the funds, business owners run all of the risks of large cash storage and transactions. These same businesses are taxed at rates much higher than many other industries as the IRS tax code 280E prevents common operating deductions. Essential items like employee wages and utility costs are seldom deductible, leaving little room for profit at many dispensaries and production facilities. The industry continues to blossom, but not everyone’s benefiting from the growth. Companies not backed by big corporations are rarely able to offer their employees workplace luxuries like healthcare, paid time off and raises. Ask any Cannabis industry worker that’s been around for a while how many companies they’ve worked for - you’ll most likely receive a sigh and count of several or more. It’s difficult finding a fit in a (relatively) new trade and many companies are failing to provide stability for their staff. That’s not to say that all operations are treating their employees poorly. There are some incredible Cannabis companies making a real effort out there, often

Our friends in the field are deemed ‘essential’ and while most of us wouldn’t argue the absolute necessity of Cannabis for some, there’s no denying that designations were made with tax dollars in mind.

JUNE 2020

leaving owners with extremely thin margins. But after personally bouncing around in the industry and hearing countless similar stories, it’s clear that many Cannabis employees still need more workplace protections. To accomplish this, state and federal legislators need to step up and help business owners. It’s infuriating to watch funds pile up for governments that continue to incarcerate for Cannabis crimes, ruthlessly regulate the industry and deny support for businesses. Our friends in the field are deemed ‘essential’ and while most of us wouldn’t argue the absolute necessity of Cannabis for some, there’s no denying that designations were made with tax dollars in mind. No one’s blaming lawmakers for taking advantage of funds in a time where unemployment has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. But the ‘new normal’ needs to include our community in a bigger way, and much of that starts with economic equality!

STORY by AMANDA DAY @TERPODACTYL_MEDIA for OREGON LEAF