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HHS: Federal law allows marijuana purchases with welfare

The federal government maintains the authority to curb funding to states that allow welfare recipients to use their EBT cards in liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs, but that power doesn't extend to marijuana dispensaries, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell clarified recently.

Responding to a query about the policy by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Burwell wrote in a letter that current law makes no mention of marijuana shops as establishments where people are prohibited from using benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Right now it's only an issue for the two states that have legalized pot, Colorado and Washington.

Burwell noted that states enjoy the freedom to mold their respective laws to ban welfare cards as appropriate marijuana payment: "In fact states have the flexibility to prevent TANF assistance from being used in any type of establishment they deem inappropriate," she wrote. She pointed out that Colorado lawmakers have already begun crafting legislation to do just that.

Sessions said at the federal level he'll take steps to close what's loosely referred to as the "welfare-for-weed" loophole, introducing a Senate version of the legislation House Republicans penned this spring, which would delegitimize the use of welfare cards or food stamps for marijuana purchase.

"The federal government current spends roughly $750 billion each year on means-tested welfare programs across 80 different accounts," Sessions said, according to the Washington Examiner. "This money is administered by a vast, sprawling bureaucracy with little oversight and no moral vision.

"Surely we can all agree that the guiding principle ought to be that benefits are reserved for those in real need," he concluded.

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