House Democrats approved the America Competes Act

The House passed a bill Friday that Democrats say will increase U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and boost American competitiveness with China.

The America Competes Act, which passed 222-210, largely along party lines, includes the provisions of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.

This vote marks the sixth time that members of the House sent the measure to the Senate either as an amendment or as a stand-alone piece of legislation.

The bill, which was offered as an amendment by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), would allow banks and other financial institutions to work with state-licensed cannabis-related businesses – something they are currently discouraged from doing.

A recent survey by Whitney Economics of 396 licensed cannabis companies reported that over 70 percent of respondents cited a “lack of access to banking or investment capital” as their top business challenge – ranking far above other challenges, such as onerous state regulations or competing with the unregulated market.

“It is imperative for the interests of public safety, transparency, and the economic viability of small cannabis businesses that this legislation is approved as soon as possible,” said NORML Political Director Morgan Fox. “The fact that the people’s chamber has approved this measure in various forms so many times is a clear indicator of where voters stand on this issue.”

“Continued inaction by the Senate on this popular bipartisan reform puts workers and customers at risk of violence, makes it harder for regulators to accurately track cannabis revenue, and perpetuates the high costs and lack of access to capital that are increasingly widening the gap between large and small businesses in the cannabis space when it comes to their chances to succeed,” said Fox. “The Senate should ensure this provision remains in the final version of this funding package and approve it swiftly.”

“The SAFE Banking Act is only the first step toward making sure that state-legal marijuana markets operate safely, efficiently, and fairly,” said Fox. “But unfortunately, the sad reality is that those who own or patronize these currently unbanked businesses are still nonetheless recognized as criminals in the eyes of the federal government and by federal law.”

“This situation can only be rectified by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances, and there are several pending legislative vehicles before Congress that can accomplish this goal,” said Fox. “In the meantime, the passage of the SAFE Banking Act is a step in the right direction that will directly improve many people’s lives.”

Currently, thousands of state-licensed cannabis businesses are unable to partner with the banking industry due to federal restrictions. As a result, they are unable to accept credit cards, deposit revenues, access loans, or write checks to meet payroll or pay taxes.

This situation is untenable. No industry can operate safely, transparently, or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions. Congress must move to change federal policy so that this growing number of state-compliant businesses and their consumers may operate in a manner similar to other legal commercial entities.

NORML has long advocated that federal lawmakers vote “Yes” on The SAFE Banking Act for these reasons.

The America COMPETES Act now advances to the Senate for consideration. In the past, Senate leadership has either refused to move SAFE Banking as a stand-alone bill or it has permitted the SAFE Banking language to be removed as an amendment from other legislation in conference committee – a scenario that most recently occurred in December.

Supporters said the legislation was also aimed at developing talent in the U.S. and fostering innovations in government labs that private companies could tap into for future products.

Much of the bill, which has been in the works for years, included input from a range of private industry, academic experts and scientists who argue the U.S. needs a long-term commitment to seeding future breakthroughs that will prevent more jobs and manufacturing from moving overseas.

Republicans defended their opposition to the bill by saying it did not do enough to counter China, it is loaded up with other priorities, such as clean energy, and it would worsen inflation despite strong evidence to the contrary.

The bill is the lower chamber’s reply to a $250 billion bipartisan competition bill, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, the Senate passed last June.

The two chambers will spend the next weeks hammering out the differences between the two bills and eventually send it to President Biden’s desk.

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