By Justin Vellucci
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
The U.S. House late last week passed a $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that includes, among several measures, efforts to normalize legalized cannabis business. The bill, dubbed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, now goes to the Senate.
The SAFE Banking Act, which is included in the HEROES Act, would eliminate penalties for banks doing business with state-legal cannabis organization. That measure currently is in place because marijuana, federally, is a schedule I drug like heroin and LSD.
U.S. Rep Mike Doyle, the Democrat who represents the City of Pittsburgh in the House, lauded the passage of the bill Friday. Doyle had cosponsored the SAFE Banking act, which the House passed last year in the fall but which later stalled in a Senate committee.
“The Trump Administration shouldn’t be deciding which businesses to support and which they want to fail during this crisis,” Doyle told the Pittsburgh Current. “State-legal cannabis businesses serve an important medical purpose and shouldn’t be damaged or destroyed by outdated, counterproductive policies.”
U.S. Rep Conor Lamb, the freshman Democrat who also represents much of southwestern Pennsylvania, did not return calls seeking comment.
Chris Visco, co-founder and CEO of TerraVida Holistic Centers, watched the House vote very closely last week. The woman dubbed by some media “Pennsylvania’s queen of cannabis” said traffic at her three southeastern Pennsylvania dispensaries, which serve some 35,000 medical cannabis patients, locations is up. But profits, she stressed, are being eaten away by heightened security, expenditures nearing $40,000 to build acrylic walls in the dispensaries and the cost of curb-side operations and delivering cannabis product throughout the region.
“Our business is good but everything we’re making, we’re giving away,” Visco said Friday. “We’re taking care of our people.”
Visco says federal laws and IRS tax codes that restrict how she can conduct a legal business – deemed “essential” by Pennsylvania during the pandemic – hamper her financially. If she makes $8 million in profits, she can claim few deductions and could face taxes as high as $10 million or more, she said.
“This is my life every day,” she told the Pittsburgh Current. “You’re affecting everyday people who are working in a legal business in this state.”
Visco stressed supporters of medical cannabis in Pennsylvania need to call key officials like Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, with whom Visco said she has discussed cannabis policy. Toomey has not conventionally been a supporter of medical cannabis but did, in 2015, voice support for funding of medical cannabis research.
“He promised me to listen,” Visco said. “Everybody should be calling Pat Toomey.”