Republican Lawmaker Launches "No Welfare For Weed" Bill

By McCarton Ackerman 03/11/14

Despite the lack of evidence that EBT money is being used to buy pot, Congressman Paul Gosar is going ahead with his bill anyway.

Rep. Paul Gosar. Photo via

After reports that welfare recipients were withdrawing cash using their Electronics Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards inside legal marijuana shops in Colorado, a Republican lawmaker has responded by creating a “No Welfare For Weed” bill.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) introduced the act last week, 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.

“Regardless of your feelings on states’ rights, ‘medical’ marijuana or recreational marijuana, people shouldn’t be able to get high using hard-earned taxpayer money,” he said. “These programs are meant to provide subsidies for food and other basic living essentials for the neediest families. Unfortunately, there are always unscrupulous people looking for ways to game the system, which makes this common-sense update to federal law necessary.”

The bill has been sponsored by four other Republicans and one Democrat. Although reports about EBT money being withdrawn from ATMs inside pot shops failed to confirm that the money was actually being used to purchase weed, the withdrawals were hardly a regular occurrence. 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 percent of the more than 42,000 electronic-benefits-transfer (EBT) withdrawals that occurred in Colorado in January .

Colorado lawmakers recently rejected a measure to ban EBT withdrawals inside pot shops because they claimed it would restrict access to benefits in areas with few ATMs. “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.”

However, other states across the country have banned EBT withdrawals in certain locations such as liquor stores, casinos, and strip clubs. SNAP recipients are also prohibited from buying alcohol, tobacco, and non-food items with their government funds.

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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.