It’s an idea that gives new meaning to the term “deadbeat stoner”: an impoverished Colorado resident heading down to the newly legal, newly opened pot dispensary and buying some weed with an Electronic Benefits Transfer card instead of cash. (The cards can draw on the Supplemental Nutritional Benefit Program and other federal cash benefit programs too, depending on eligibility.)
In terms of SNAP, marijuana falls short of meeting the “nutritional” requirement. Unless, that is, we’re talking edible—pot brownies and the like. And, like tobacco and alcohol, weed just generally seems like a product that you shouldn’t be able to buy with food stamps.
Indeed, there haven’t been any confirmed reports of people attempting to purchase marijuana using EBT cards since the drug, which the Drug Enforcement Agency lists as a Schedule 1 substance, alongside heroin and LSD, became completely legal in Colorado on Jan. 1.
That hasn’t stopped politicians in the state from raising the specter of a new kind of welfare queen by proposing regulations that would block food stamp recipients from buying this non-food item with their benefit dollars.
The Associated Press reports the fledgling industry is supporting the bill “and has been debunking rumors about food stamp use in marijuana shops.” Which is an understandable stance for marijuana-related businesses to take: Because they're newly legal in Colorado—and illegal in the eyes of the feds—pot-related companies can only get government support from state politicians.
Still, preempting that with a law that would also block the use of EBT cards at “establishments licensed to sell marijuana or marijuana-infused products and adult-oriented entertainment establishments,” as Senate Bill 37 reads, hurts the legitimacy of the 47 million Americans who rely on federal food assistance. Being poor and hungry doesn't mean you're a stoner and certainly doesn't suggest you'd be willing to game the system to make the government pay for your weed.
(The state senate has yet to set a hearing for the bill.)
It bears repeating that there have been no confirmed reports of any Colorado residents trying to buy marijuana with federal benefit dollars. This is purely speculative legislation. Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen,” as destructive of a myth as she became, was at least based on a real person.