U.S. House Votes on Marijuana-Related Welfare Issue

Late Tuesday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 4137, the Preserving Welfare for Needs Not Weed Act, by voice vote. Sponsored by Rep. David Reichert (R-WA), the bill would prohibit recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds from using their TANF funds at stores that sell marijuana. The fact that the passage of the bill occurred as a voice vote rather than a roll call vote makes it impossible to know which members voted for or against the bill. That is one reason why ASA will not be scoring this vote on VoteMedicalMarijuana.org. Thankfully, the bill appears to stand little chance of passage in the Senate.

Even if passed into law, the value of the legislation would be minimal in terms of blocking the use of public assistance funds for medical marijuana.  By preventing the ability of TANF recipients to access funds from ATMs in medical marijuana dispensaries, the practical impact would only harm those with financial hardship and mobility issues, because TANF recipients could still make financial withdrawals from other nearby ATMs. The only dispensary consumers who could not work around the burden that H.R. 4137 seeks to create would be poor patients who have the greatest mobility issues. 

Thankfully, last night's vote on H.R. 4137 was not really about the issue of safe and legal access to marijuana for medical purposes. In reality this was more about limiting the choices of welfare recipients. To use another medical issue as an example, a politician could support legal access to abortion, but might not support public funds to have them performed.

Interestingly, the need for this type of welfare reform seems questionable at best.  In Colorado, a calculation based on extrapolation of numbers provided in a National Review article indicates that TANF funds from medical marijuana dispensaries make up only 0.0038% of total TANF fund expenditures in the state, which does not represent significant abuse, nor is it in any way a means to generate substantial savings. Medical marijuana patients receiving TANF funds should take comfort in knowing that the likelihood of passage for this legislation in the Senate is close to zero. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has promised to introduce a Senate companion bill, but Senate leadership does not appear move forward on this issue. While the Republican-controlled House was able to get the bill to the House floor for a vote without the bill going through the regular committee process, Democratic leadership in the Senate will not do the same.