Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C. have introduced legislation that would ban the spending of federal welfare benefits at cannabis dispensaries. Two pending pieces of legislation include language to prohibit the use of welfare benefits at marijuana retailers, including a wide-reaching Senate welfare reform bill and a stand-alone measure in the House of Representatives.
In the Senate, Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana has included the ban in a welfare reform bill known as the “Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services Act” or “JOBS Act,” (S.2381), which he introduced in the upper chamber of Congress on July 19.
The bill contains several reforms to the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, including provisions that provide job search assistance and others that require benefit recipients to work or actively seek employment. Also included in the JOBS Act is a section titled “Welfare for needs not weed,” a provision that bars the use of TANF funds at “any establishment that offers marihuana … for sale.”
“Finding and keeping a job is the best way for Montana families to go from government dependency to self-sufficiency,” Daines said in a statement on the legislation, which did not mention the cannabis provisions of the measure. “My bill 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.”
Interestingly, Daines is the primary Senate Republican co-sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act of 2021, federal legislation that would allow financial institutions to provide traditional banking services to state-legal cannabis businesses. The bill was passed in the House of Representatives in April, but has yet to be taken up in the Senate.
So far, the JOBS Act has failed to gain any co-sponsors in the Senate, where the bill has been referred to the Committee on Finance for consideration.
Republican-Backed House Bill Seeks Similar Ban
Republican lawmakers in the House are also seeking to prohibit the use of federal welfare funds at marijuana cannabis dispensaries. Last month, Representative Tom Rice of South Carolina introduced a stand-alone bill (H.R. 4536) that would similarly ban the use of TANF funds at marijuana retailers. The measure has one GOP co-sponsor, Representative Jackie Walorski of Indiana.
In a memo written about a 2014 version of the bill, which was known as the Preserving Welfare for Needs Not Weed Act, lawmakers wrote that the legislation prohibits federal benefits recipients “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.”
The memo noted that a 2014 investigation by the National Review found that in the first month of legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, federal benefits cards were used 64 times to withdraw more than $5,000 at cannabis retailers. Republican lawmakers in the state then enacted a ban on the use of TANF cards at dispensaries.
Cannabis activists have been critical of the legislation, saying that the titles of the House bill and marijuana section of the JOBS Act perpetuate the stigma against cannabis and target the most vulnerable members of our society. Justin Strekal, the political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that lawmakers should instead support more comprehensive cannabis policy reform.
“Americans shouldn’t be discriminated against under the law for responsible cannabis consumption, period,” 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 de-scheduling cannabis.”
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.