Colorado Examines Banning EBT Use At Pot Shops

Colorado Examines Banning EBT Use At Pot Shops

By McCarton Ackerman 02/03/15

Colorado is looking to follow the lead of other states by limiting the use of welfare cards in pot shops.

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Keeping with the trend of the growing number of states that require mandatory drug testing for welfare benefits, a new Colorado bill looks to ban welfare cards from being used in marijuana shops.

Republican Sen. Vicki Marble, who is leading the bill set to go before the State Senate, wants electronic benefits cards (EBT) to be forbidden for use at pot shops and strip clubs. Similar limitations already exist for liquor stores, casinos, and gun shops. Her bill failed last year under the argument that pot stores are located in poor neighborhoods, but even Democrats are backing her as she now argues that federal intervention is possible if public benefits are being spent on marijuana.

“We stand to lose a lot if we don’t show we are trying to prevent tax money for pot,” she said. “The growers here put in a lot of time and effort. A raid would be absolutely devastating to our state.” Marijuana industry groups like the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce have also supported the bill.

However, the issue of using welfare money for pot is an isolated one at best. Roughly one dozen separate instances from last September to November saw Colorado welfare recipients withdraw a combined $540 from marijuana store ATMs.

In January 2014, public assistance benefits were accessed at least 64 times inside establishments that sold pot, with an average withdrawal of $85.55. That made for less than 0.15% of the more than 42,000 EBT withdrawals that occurred in Colorado that month.

It is also unclear whether the EBT withdrawals were actually used to buy pot. Colorado lawmakers have previously rejected measures to ban EBT withdrawals inside pot shops for this very reason. A “No Welfare For Weed” bill introduced last March by Paul Gosar (R-AZ), which would prohibit food stamp recipients from using their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits to purchase pot in states where it is legal, also failed to gain traction.

“We cannot assume that somebody who has accessed money at a retail marijuana shop has spent that money on marijuana,” said Lovetta Love, director of the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Employment and Benefits Division. “There’s no correlation there. We don’t have any proof of that.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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