Colorado Senate advances bill banning use of welfare cards at marijuana shops

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Colorado lawmakers want to ensure public benefit cards aren't being used at marijuana dispensary ATMs or strip clubs with a bill that cleared its first hurdle Tuesday in the state Senate.

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Many dispensary ATMs are already set up to decline the electronic benefit cards, known as EBTs, but bill sponsors say additional steps are needed to avoid possible federal sanctions if there's evidence of misuse.

A Senate committee advanced the bill on a 3-2 vote with Democrats in opposition. They're concerned the bill could adversely impact legitimate use of EBTs, arguing that there is limited access to ATMs in poor neighborhoods and sometimes pot shops are the closest source of cash for people without a bank.

Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Dan Nordberg, who is carrying the bill if it gets to the House, doesn't buy that.

"The argument that the only place that one can withdraw their benefits is at a strip club or a pot shop, I don't think passes the smell test," he said.

The full Senate will consider the proposal.

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The bill would add marijuana shops and strip clubs to the list of Colorado businesses where electronic benefits cards can't be used to withdraw cash. EBTs already can't be used at liquor stores, casinos and gun shops.

Boulder County Sen. Matt Jones, who voted against the bill in committee, said his constituents have concerns about the proposal, and it's not clear how widespread the misuse of the cards might be.

The state Department of Social and Health Services has said there were about a dozen instances where welfare recipients have withdrawn cash from pot-shot ATMs from September through November.

Legislators sponsoring the bill say they're worried the federal government could cut Colorado's share of welfare funding if they discover there's abuse.

The marijuana industry backs the proposal.

"We pride ourselves on being good stewards of our economy and also of our community as well," said Tyler Henson, president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

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Senate Bill 65: http://bit.ly/1yUsA8u