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Colorado Won't Ban Public Assistance At Pot Shops

DENVER (AP) - Saying some neighborhoods have more pot shops than banks, Colorado Democrats on Wednesday rejected a proposal to ban the use of public assistance cards to obtain cash at marijuana-shop ATMs.

The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted 3-2 along party lines against a GOP proposal to add marijuana shops to the list of places where recipients of public assistance can't use their government-issued EBT cards to access cash.

The list already includes casinos, liquor stores and gun shops.

Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, said Colorado's new legal pot industry needs to make sure not to invite federal scrutiny through improper cash withdrawals at recreational or medical marijuana stores.

"Already we are operating an industry which is not allowed under federal law," said Marble, one of the chief lawmakers involved with Colorado's marijuana regulation bills.

If federal authorities notice public benefit card use at marijuana shops, "I have a feeling we're going to see trouble we're not ready to deal with," she said.

Democrats on the committee said some neighborhoods have few ATMs, and the Legislature should address those banking deserts before piling on places where public assistance cards can't be used.

"I'm not comfortable limiting that access until I'm certain we've done that due diligence to make sure people can access their benefits when they need to," Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, said.

The bill would also have added strip clubs to the list of off-limits ATMs, something already banned under federal law.

The marijuana industry argued for the ban, saying it could help prevent rumors about people using disability benefits or spending Social Security checks on marijuana.

Jason Warf of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council argued that Colorado should take any steps possible to head off federal interference in the marijuana businesses.

"That's not something that anybody in the cannabis industry would welcome, obviously," Warf said.

On the other side, activists speaking on behalf of people using public assistance cards said the limits aren't needed.

"We see this legislation as unnecessary regulation that could prevent access to benefits needed by low-income Coloradans," said Terry Scanlon of the Colorado Center on Law & Policy.

LINK: Senate Bill 37

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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