Republican lawmakers have proposed a new bill to block low-income Americans from using federal financial support to buy legal weed, maintaining a long tradition of using prohibition laws to target the country’s most marginalized communities.
The “Welfare for Needs not Weed Act,” introduced by Reps. Tom Rice (R-SC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN), seeks to amend the rules for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding. This simple legislation would prohibit members of this federal financial assistance program from using their TANF card at any store that sells marijuana in any form.
Rice “believes it would be a misuse of taxpayer dollars to allow folks receiving welfare to use the funds for marijuana purchases,” his spokesperson said to Marijuana Moment. “Those taxpayer funds should instead be used by families who require assistance meeting actual needs.”
“The cash benefits are already restricted at casinos, liquor stores and strip clubs,” the lawmaker's spokesperson added. “This bill simply closes a loophole that will prevent people from exploiting the system as legal marijuana purchases continue to expand across the country.”
It is already nearly impossible for TANF recipients to use their government-issued debit cards at legal weed establishments, because federal banking restrictions force these businesses to operate on a cash-only basis. Rice's proposal would prevent TANF cards from being used to withdraw cash from ATMs located at cannabis stores, but it would not be able to stop anyone from withdrawing federal cash at a grocery store ATM and using it to buy weed, of course.
“The absurdity of this effort highlights that Tom Rice is not a statesman but rather a petulant child attempting to take a serious issue and make a mockery of it,” said NORML political director Justin Strekal to Marijuana Moment. “Anyone who joins him on this bill only highlights that they are not willing to engage is serious policymaking decisions and should be voted out of office.”
The bill would block the use of TANF cards at any establishment that sells any form of marijuana, including medical dispensaries. Although most US states have legalized medical cannabis in some form, federal health insurance programs will not reimburse patients for buying medical marijuana at a licensed dispensary. Patients are therefore forced to pay for their medicine completely out of pocket, and this new proposal would make that process even more cumbersome for low-income Americans.
“Millions of Americans living with chronic, debilitating conditions rely on cannabis to manage their symptoms and significantly increase their quality of life. For millions of patients, cannabis IS a need,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, to Marijuana Moment.
“Instead of introducing a bill to ensure that under-resourced individuals, including veterans, have access to cannabis’ medical benefits, Representative Tom Rice chooses to exemplify how far reaching the drug war apparatus goes in surveilling and policing under-resourced people.”
“This bill is a disgraceful culmination of stigma against under-resourced people, and misguided stigma against cannabis, a medicinal plant,” Adesuyi added. “Representative Rice is out of touch with where the rest of the nation is on the importance of ending the war on cannabis, and the needs of millions of Americans who benefit from access to cannabis.”