POLITICS
09/12/2014 03:08 pm ET Updated Sep 12, 2014

Republicans Tackle Scourge Of Welfare In Weed Stores

WASHINGTON -- Next week the U.S. House of Representatives will likely consider legislation to prevent a government shutdown, and maybe a bill to authorize a new war in Iraq.

But the Republican-controlled House will also target the scourge of poor people withdrawing welfare benefits from ATMs inside Colorado pot shops. Lawmakers will vote on the Preserving Welfare For Needs Not Weed Act on Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman for sponsor Dave Reichert (R-Wash.).

Reichert originally introduced the bill in March after the National Review reported that welfare debit cards had been used 64 times inside Colorado's new legal marijuana establishments.

“The fact that some people are using welfare for weed is outrageous,” Reichert said in a press release at the time. “It’s offensive to taxpayers working to pay for these benefits, and it’s insulting to low-income families who truly need help to make ends meet."

Republicans have been obsessed for years with how poor people spend cash benefits and food stamps. Reichert's measure is the latest in a long string of federal and state measures to drug-test beneficiaries and restrict how welfare dollars are spent. Critics say the only goal of the legislation is to imply that welfare beneficiaries have drug problems.

Cash benefits from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program are typically distributed on debit cards. The government can restrict ATM access, but not where people spend the cash. While government-issued debit cards may have been used at pot shop ATMs, then, the available data don't show whether the cash actually went to pot. The much bigger Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by contrast, does not allow cash withdrawals or spending on things like booze and cigarettes.

Reichert's bill wouldn't prevent somebody from withdrawing cash outside a weed store and then spending it on marijuana. In 2012, Congress approved a similar bill banning welfare ATM withdrawals at strip clubs, casinos, and liquor stores, but they failed to anticipate pot shops.

The Senate is unlikely to play along with Reichert's bill unless it's part of a broader government-funding measure.

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