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GOP senator: No buying pot with federal welfare benefits


Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Tuesday he would soon introduce legislation that would prohibit people from using their federal welfare benefits at marijuana dispensaries.

Sessions said his decision was prompted by a late July letter he received from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, who said HHS currently has no authority to stop people from using their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards in stores that sell pot.


In her July 31 letter to Sessions, Burell said she's aware of media reports saying people are using their EBT cards at dispensaries, and agreed it could be a problem.

"I agree that any inappropriate expenditure of public funds is a cause for concern and should be addressed immediately," she wrote.

She said the law doesn't mention marijuana stores and that HHS is therefore powerless to act, although a 2011 law prohibits the use of EBT cards in liquor stores, strip clubs and casinos. Burwell added, however, that states have the authority under the law to set up their own rules about marijuana stores, and said some have started moving in this direction.

"We understand that legislators in Colorado have already explored prohibiting EBT withdrawals at retail marijuana shops and medical-marijuana dispensaries," she said.

That wasn't enough to satisfy Sessions, who released a statement Tuesday complaining that while the Obama administration has not been shy to interpret Obamacare as it sees fit, HHS is now saying it has no wiggle room to exclude marijuana dispensaries.

"I intend to introduce legislation to address this problem," he said. "Once the loophole is closed, I will also be following up with HHS to make sure they are taking the steps necessary to stop this dangerous misuse of taxpayer-funded benefits."

Sessions added that the federal government spends a total of roughly $750 billion each year on welfare programs, which is administered by a "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 said.

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