GOP Senator Behind Marijuana Banking Bill Aims to Restrict Welfare Recipients’ Dispensary Spending

A GOP senator who is the top cosponsor of marijuana banking legislation is now, on the other hand, also seeking to prevent people from using federal financial assistance at cannabis dispensaries as part of a new large-scale welfare bill.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the lead Republican sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, included language in a separate welfare-related bill that would make it so people could not use Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds at “any establishment that offers marihuana … for sale.”

A standalone bill that would singularly enact that policy change was reintroduced in the House last week by Reps. Tom Rice (R-SC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN).

Daines did not directly address the cannabis provision in a press release on his new broader welfare bill last week, but argued that the overall legislation “recognizes that there is dignity and hope in work.”

“We need to do more to give Montana families a hand-up, not simply a handout, and provide the resources they need to secure a brighter future,” he said.

According to a memo on an earlier version of the standalone House measure, the provision would prohibit people “from using welfare benefit cards for purchases at stores that sell marijuana, as well as forbids the withdrawal of welfare cash at ATMs in such stores.”

But activists say the bill unfairly targets the most vulnerable people and perpetuates marijuana stigmas.

The title of the provision itself—the “Welfare for Needs not Weed”—has on its own drawn the ire of legalization advocates who argue it unnecessarily plays into negative cannabis stereotypes. They also argue that it’s inappropriate to tell medical cannabis patients they can’t use funds for their medicine.

Beyond perpetuating stigmas, there’s some earlier evidence indicating that the proposal wouldn’t be efficacious.

“Americans shouldn’t be discriminated against under the law for responsible cannabis consumption, period,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “Rich or poor, be they bankers or unemployed, it’s the principle of the matter. Senator Daines should rescind his support for this anti-American policy and throw his weight behind comprehensive efforts to respect civil rights by descheduling cannabis.”

In 2018, the House Committee On Ways and Means approved a prior version of the legislation as part of a broader jobs bill, but it was not enacted into law.

This session, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and 17 cosponsors introduced a House version of Daines’s broader welfare reform bill that contains the anti-cannabis provision.

Beyond perpetuating stigmas, there’s some earlier evidence indicating that the proposal wouldn’t be efficacious.

Records obtained by National Review in 2014 showed that TANF recipients in Colorado used EBT cards to take out cash at cannabis dispensaries just 64 times, amounting to a total of “$5,475 in public benefits.” Nonetheless, Republican lawmakers there moved quickly to impose a statewide ban on the withdrawal of TANF benefits at dispensaries.

In other cannabis-related news of concern for lower-income people, the House Rules Committee declined to allow floor votes this week on amendments to large-scale spending legislation that would have made it so marijuana possession or consumption could not be used as the sole basis for denying people access to public housing.

Daines, for his part, cosigned a letter last month urging Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to schedule a vote on the cannabis banking legislation.

In May, his office released a video of a local Montana sheriff making the public safety case for passing the the marijuana financial services bill.


Photograph via PublicDomainePictures.net

This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.

Author: Sunny Dupree
Sunny Dupree is a seasoned journalist, keynote speaker and founder of Weed America: A Journalism-Minded Agency, which handles public relations, content marketing, social media, events and thought leadership for brands and executives in legal cannabis, hemp technology, alternative healthcare, and other new industries.