This is one of those stories that you just kind of shake your head and wonder if some politicians have anything between their ears at all.
The Electronic Benefit Transfer Cards (EBT) given out by the government in place of the old paper food stamps has many advantages both for users and businesses. They’ve actually helped cut down on fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and they make record keeping a lot easier for retailers who accept them.
But you are not supposed to be able to buy beer, wine, or liquor with them. Accordingly, Cash machines located in liquor stores cannot dispense cash via an EBT card. You can, however, use them to get the cash portion of your benefits — even if an ATM machine is located in a marijuana shop.
Republicans want to change this. Democrats apparently don’t see anything wrong with it.
Everyone in Colorado from Republicans to marijuana moguls wants to stop welfare cash from being used to buy recreational pot, but standing in their way are the state’s formidable legislative Democrats.
Despite mounting evidence that “welfare for weed” is more than an urban myth, Democratic legislators are balking at a bill that would add marijuana dispensaries and strip clubs to the list of places, along with casinos and liquor stores, where debit-style benefits cards cannot be used to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines, or ATMs.
Democrats killed a similar bill last year, but now the stakes are higher. States had two years to align their statutes with a 2012 federal law banning the use of electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards at gambling and adult-entertainment venues.
As of this year, states that fail to take action risk having their federal grants under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program reduced by 5 percent.
While pot shops aren’t on the federal list, Colorado officials are concerned that failing to disable ATMs at marijuana dispensaries for EBT cards would violate the spirit of the law and provoke the ire of the Justice Department, which is keeping the legalized pot industry in states like Colorado and Washington on a short leash.
“Even though it’s not part of that ban requirement, marijuana is illegal at the federal level, and we just want to be proactive and ahead of that,” said Levetta Love, director of Office of Economic Security for the Colorado Department of Human Services, in testimony last week in support of the bill before a Senate committee.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Vicki Marble, noted that President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, New York federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, took a hard line on states that legalize marijuana at last month’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.
Beyond the question of federal benefits being used to purchase a product illegal in almost the entire country, you have to ask how much intelligence it takes to give access to people receiving nutritional assistance to a drug that even proponents agree alters consciousness, impairs motor skills, and with chronic use, leads to lethargy and a lowering of ambition.
Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing marijuana use any more than they should be subsidizing the use of alcohol. But Democrats aren’t convinced there’s a problem:
Last year, Democrats said they were worried about limiting access for welfare recipients, many of whom don’t have bank accounts and may find it difficult to locate nearby ATMs in their neighborhoods. Democrats were also dubious about whether EBT cardholders were really blowing public dollars on pot.
Those arguments were raised once again at last week’s Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee hearing, where the bill passed 3-2 on a party-line vote.
“My county still expresses concerns about this bill, and they don’t know how big a problem it is as far as people using this money for the activities listed here, so I’m going to be a no,” said Democratic state Sen. Matt Jones.
Liberals in Colorado and elsewhere have mocked concerns about welfare recipients getting high on the taxpayers’ dime, exemplified by a headline in September from Media Matters, which said, “Right-Wing Media’s Mythological ‘Welfare for Weed’ Campaign Has Resulted in Actual GOP Legislation.”
A TV investigative report concluded that 17 pounds of marijuana was purchased using EBT cards last year. That’s a small percentage of the total amount of marijuana sold in the state. But it kind of blows up the notion that “welfare for weed” is a myth.
This bill is a no brainer to support given the ubiquitousness of ATM machines these days. The notion there’s some kind of “ATM desert” in Colorado cities is absurd. The bottom line is it’s crazy to give people who need federal assistance to survive access to a mind-altering drug.