Legal marijuana dispensaries face some ups and downs through COVID-19, while ex-offender entrepreneurs struggle. Plus, you can now get up close and personal with your credit report any time you want. It’s all in today's EBI's Screening News Weekly Wrap.
Illegal to Essential
Something fascinating throughout this whole COVID-19 experience is the change in how we look at the marijuana industry. In just a couple of years, marijuana has gone from “illegal” to “essential.”
As of April 2020, 34 states allowed medical marijuana, while 27 had fully legalized - or at least decriminalized - the use of the drug. While so many businesses faced shutdowns because of the coronavirus, the vast majority of the states - 31 of them - allowed marijuana dispensaries to remain open.
There are likely several rationales behind these decisions, but the biggest driver may be the tax revenue lawmakers expected to reap from marijuana sales. States across the country are struggling as tax revenue dries up while expenses soar as they battle the virus.
But while states are more than willing to benefit from the revenue, marijuana distributors are prohibited from receiving federal help offered to other businesses through the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP). This goes back to the simple fact that, as far as the federal government is concerned, marijuana is still illegal. It’s a Schedule I drug, and that doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon.
Paying Now for Past Mistakes
In order to get the PPP loans through the CARES Act, applicants must certify, under penalty of perjury, that they are not engaged in any illegal activity. That’s why the marijuana distributors can’t get the loans – because they are currently breaking federal law.
But what about business owners in more traditional industries like lawn care or construction? Many of them are getting turned down for the loans as well, not because they are doing anything wrong now, but because they have a criminal conviction in their past.
There are many programs that help former felons become entrepreneurs because finding a job with a criminal record can be daunting. Bryan Kelly, CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, told Law360 that none of the 500 business he has helped former offenders start have been able to get emergency pandemic funds.
The PPP loan application, like all Small Business Administration loans, asks if anyone owning 20% or more of the business has a criminal record. It also requires applicants to confirm they haven’t had a felony conviction or guilty plea in the last five years. If the answer to either question is yes, the loan is denied.
The problem has been broached in Washington, but the funds are distributed so quickly that even if changes are made to the applications these business owners will likely miss out. More than half of the $310 billion dollars allotted to the second round of PPP loans was distributed in just five days.
Free Credit Reports For All
We have warned that scammers are taking full advantage of the COVID-19 crisis. Now, the three major U.S. credit reporting agencies are doing something to help.
Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are offering consumers free weekly credit reports from now until next April. You can access your free reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Some financial experts suggest checking all of your financial accounts online every day to ward off online thieves. Checking your credit report often is especially important if you have an arraignment with a creditor to delay payments because of financial hardship so you can be sure they are being reported correctly.
If your finances are stable and you haven’t been a victim of fraud recently, checking once a month is enough to catch mistakes before they become monsters.