According to data compiled by the National Review, welfare recipients have used electronic benefit (EBT) cards to withdraw cash at dispensaries at least 259 times since the sale of limited amounts of cannabis to adults 21 and up began in Colorado on January 1.
In total, more than $23,600 of money meant to go toward food and housing from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was withdrawn, according to the conservative publication. And while there's no way to prove the money was spent in dispensaries, that doesn't matter to the lawmakers who immediately demanded something be done.
As the National Review points out, 259 withdrawals is just a tiny fraction of the more than 500,000 that have been made at dispensaries around the state since January 1. But it's large enough that some lawmakers are considering new legislative remedies. In addition, the Colorado State Board of Human Services, which oversees the benefits program, issued an emergency ruling on July 11 that bars the cards from being used at ATMs in bars, pot shops, liquor stores and casinos -- and also allows Human Services to better track transactions. Using the funds at such businesses is already illegal.
"For the first time in Colorado, the rule will allow us to deactivate an EBT card if we identify misuse," said Todd Jorgensen, director of the office of public safety for the Colorado Department of Human Services, in announcing the change. "The department takes the appropriate use of TANF funds very seriously."
Earlier this year, the satirical National Report ran a joke article saying that one Colorado medical marijuana dispensary had openly advertised that it accepted food stamps for weed. Though the article was bogus, it still got some people up in arms, including the Douglas County GOP, which took the report seriously.
So seriously, in fact, that the group filed a proposal this past January to stop the use. A bill sponsored by Senator Vicki Marble -- you'll remember her as the lawmaker who complemented black people on their awesome barbecue and chicken -- would have added pot shops to the list of places that can't accept food-stamp money. But state Democrats shot down the measure, saying it was redundant and noting that any business that wants to accept food-stamp funds needs to be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- and dispensaries aren't lining up for that distinction.
Still, Republican legislators say they will probably try to pass a broader bill limiting the use of public assistance for any kind of recreational or medical cannabis in the next session.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.