Colorado continues to be the great laboratory which the rest of the states will watch as many of them wrestle with the idea of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Since they adopted the policy, plenty of complications, both predictable and unforeseen, have cropped up and the state government is scrambling to find ways to deal with them. The latest episode focuses on the ongoing debate over whether welfare recipients should be able to use their electronic benefits transfer cards (EBTs) at ATMs located in marijuana shops. The GOP is crying foul and attempting to legislate against it, but the Democrats don’t seem to see a problem.
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.
It’s something of a dodgy legal question because the requirement being cited doesn’t actually apply to marijuana shops, at least for now. But some of those pushing for the restriction are citing the attitudes toward marijuana demonstrated by prospective Attorney General Loretta Lynch and wondering if dancing around the edges of such rules will have the feds coming to bust in some doors. As to why the Democrats don’t want to see such a ban, the reasons seem puzzling. Arguing that you can’t prove that people taking benefits cash out of an ATM will actually use the money to buy pot may be true, but it’s hardly convincing. Similarly, suggesting that the card holder can’t find another ATM within easy travel distance sounds odd also. How many pot shops are the only businesses with an ATM in a neighborhood?
But no matter which side you come down on in this debate, it seems to me that Colorado is arguing the wrong question. Rather than asking where you can take cash out of an ATM with your EBT card, perhaps they should be asking why the system is set up so you can use it for cash in the first place. These cards are ostensibly a modernized tool for benefits recipients to be able to access the funds made available through public support. But such benefits are supposed to be the course of last resort for those who have fallen on hard times and cannot support themselves in any other way. They were never intended to be used for partying, drinking or other entertainment activities. Healthy food, beverages and staple goods were supposed to be the intention, ensuring that a family could survive while getting through whatever difficulties led them to need assistance.
The entire idea of allowing significant cash withdrawals seems to fly in the face of that. The question of where you extract the cash is rather nonsensical unless you are assuming that the recipient is too dense to figure out that they could simply walk across the street after obtaining it. Perhaps a better solution would be for them to limit cash withdrawals to a reasonable amount for public transportation on any given day – say something in the twenty dollar range – and only allow the cards to be used for direct purchase of food and beverages otherwise. From what I’ve read, marijuana is outrageously expensive at these stores so that should largely alleviate the problem.