State Legislature

Pot food stamp bill killed

By Vic Vela
Posted

A bill that would have prohibited welfare recipients from using public assistance cash cards at marijuana stores and strip clubs died in a legislative committee on Jan. 15.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, argued unsuccessfully that allowing electronic benefit transfer cards — which act as debit cards for people on public assistance — to be used at ATMs that are inside pot shops and adult entertainment places begs for federal prosecutorial intervention.

But Democrats on the Senate's State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee cited testimony from bill opponents who said the bill was unnecessary and addresses a problem that doesn't exist.

The bill died in the Democrat-led committee, following a 3-2 party line vote.

Marble told committee members that federal law requires that the state take measures to prevent public assistance recipients from using their EBT cards inside places like liquor stores, gambling establishments and adult entertainment businesses.

As for use inside pot shops, Marble said that voters supported 2012's Amendment 64 - which legalized pot sales in Colorado - with the intention of pot being regulated the same way as alcohol. The federal government frowns on EBT cards being used inside places that sell booze.

Without regulation addressing this issue, Marble - who was a member of last year's Amendment 64 Legislative Task Force - said that pot shop owners could end up getting a visit from a federal agent.

"I have a feeling we're going to be seeing trouble that we're not ready to deal with," Marble said, referring to federal cash seizures at pot stores. "We're setting these newly established marijuana stores up to fail."

Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, supported Marble's effort, saying that he doesn't believe that public funds should be used to access marijuana.

"I just don't understand - people who are using their food stamp money to buy marijuana - why we should be making it easier for them," he said.

But bill opponents and Democratic committee members said those fears are overblown.

"I'm not aware of widespread misuse," said Terry Scanlon of the Center for Children's Law and Policy. "This is an unnecessary burden to put on the beneficiaries."

Other arguments against the bill had to do with lack of ATM access for public assistance recipients. Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, said that she believes the federal government's intent is to ensure that public assistance recipients have access to ATMs, before the state does anything to restrict their use.

Democratic senators shared narratives about elderly and disabled persons having to go out of their way to find ATMs. In some cases, the closest neighborhood cash dispensaries are found inside liquor stores, or pot shops, they said.

Those persons are not using public assistance to buy pot; they're just trying to get cash to get on the bus, bill opponents said.

"If you've ever known anyone who has been on cash assistance, like I have, it's not something you abuse," said Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City.