Maine’s junior member of Congress, 2nd District Democrat Jared Golden, is pushing a measure that would force the federal Small Business Administration to stop saying no to cannabis-related businesses.

Golden’s bill would prohibit a number of SBA programs, such as the Veterans Business Outreach Centers and the Small Business Development Centers, from declining to help otherwise-eligible small businesses solely because they deal in cannabis-related products.

In Maine and a growing number of states, marijuana is either a legal product or on the path to becoming one, but federal law still categorizes it as a dangerous, illegal drug.

As a result, many sources of advice about starting a business are closed off to people eyeing the creation of a cannabis-related enterprise because federal funds are involved in some way.

Amy Landry, executive director of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, said Monday her economic development officials have had to turn away prospective clients who want to get into the field.

“We can’t help them,” she said, because federal law bars them from offering advice about setting up a marijuana-related business or providing financing tips.

Landry said she does not have any information about the scope of the problem, but is sure that if the restrictions were lifted, “it would help to get some of them established.”

On the other hand, she said, many of them “are making it work without our programs” to lend a hand since they are popping up in a number of communities.

Business News Daily reported consumer spending on cannabis products in the U.S. passed $10 billion in 2018 and is expected to more than double by 2022. Investments in related businesses more than tripled from 2017 to 2018, it found.

Testifying before a U.S. Senate panel in May, Major Clark, the acting chief counsel of the SBA’s office of advocacy, said the agency gets lots of inquiries about what it can do for cannabis-related businesses. He said the SBA could help them, but instead turns them away because the federal government has not legalized the drug.

Clark said the SBA has not studied the issue because marijuana is illegal.

“I’m sure that as soon as the federal government decides to legalize this substance,” Clark said, “we will begin to study its impact and the ability to use it in a more economical context.”

Golden’s bill, the Ensuring Access to Counseling and Training Programs for All Small Business Act of 2019, would open the doors to more SBA help for Maine’s cannabis businesses.

“Starting a small business is never easy,” Golden said, “so we need to ensure entrepreneurs have access to the resources necessary to succeed, no matter the industry. Continuing to turn some Maine small business owners away from crucial SBA programs and resources holds our economy back and keeps those businesses from creating jobs.

“My bill would address this problem by helping small business owners directly or indirectly associated with the cannabis industry get their small businesses off the ground and grow.”

Golden, a first-term lawmaker who is seeking re-election next year, does not have a declared opponent yet. But one Republican who is seriously considering, former state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, said recently that cannabis is an issue where he and Golden generally agree.

Maine voters legalized marijuana in a statewide referendum.

Golden’s bill is one in a group of measures being assessed by the House Small Business Committee.

Its chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a New York Democrat, has a bill that would make businesses with direct and indirect cannabis ties eligible for SBA-backed loans.

“As our society continues to move the needle on this issue,” Velázquez said, “we must recognize that legal cannabis businesses are often small businesses that fuel local economies and create new jobs.”

She said it would help establish new businesses and give a boost in particular to “entrepreneurs from communities of color” that have been especially hard hit by the nation’s long war on drugs.

The panel’s vice chairman, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Pennsylvania, has a proposal that would establish an SBA grant program to provide state and local governments with funding to help small businesses navigate cannabis licensing and employment, also focused on places that have struggled with drugs over the years.

“My bill would act as a poverty buster,” Evans aid, “and help homegrown small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. We need to make sure that the booming legal cannabis industry does not become consolidated in the hands of a few big companies.

“My bill would help small businesses to participate in this industry, and knock down barriers to jobs and entrepreneurship for people most adversely impacted by the war on cannabis, which has been especially harsh for people of color.”

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