Want to buy medical marijuana with your state-issued Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card? If the state Senate has its way, you won't be able to for long. That's because on Tuesday, by a vote of 39-10, the Senate passed Senate Bill 5279, which would add marijuana and medical marijuana to the list of items prohibited from purchasing with an EBT card - a list that already includes things like alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, bail bonds, tattoos and body piercings.
Sponsored by Lakewood Republican Mike Carrell, SB 5279 is being sold as a way to keep state cash benefits intended for "items related to childcare," as the Capitol Record blog put it, from being used for pot. But whether you support the idea or not, such a description doesn't fully tell the tale of how EBT cards work or the implications of the proposed legislation.
"Something that is not appropriate for children shouldn't be purchased with money intended for children," the Capitol Record blog quoted Carrell as saying Tuesday.
That seems sensible enough, but it's only partially accurate. While the bulk of state and federal assistance doled out via EBT cards - like the food stamp program and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits - are welfare benefits intended for single parents and families, there are other programs that disperse money through EBT programs - like the state Aged, Blind or Disabled cash assistance program, for instance - that have nothing to do with children or families. The Aged, Blind or Disabled program provides a maximum monthly cash grant of $197 to Washington residents who meet income and resource requirements and are 65 or older, blind or have a long-term medical condition that is meets federal disability criteria.
In other words, these are folks who could benefit from the use of medical marijuana - a treatment option the state has recognized as legitimate since voters approved it in 1998.
But SB 5279 would prohibit the purchase of medical marijuana via EBT cards no matter where the money on the card came from.
Moreover, while it's true the bulk of the state's cash assistance goes to single parents and families, that's not to say all these funds are exclusively intended for children. Parents can use cash assistance for a wide array of things, from housing costs and food, to transportation costs, to over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
This being the case, why wouldn't the state allow qualified medical marijuana patients - who also happen to be parents - to utilize cash benefits for a legitimate medical purposes like medical marijuana (as its been classified under state law for the past 15 years)?
Because of the stoner stigma attached to medical pot, of course.
Battling this stigma, and fighting for the medical rights of the poor, is the exact reason that Tacoma's Sen. Jeannie Darnielle pushed for an amendment that would have excluded qualifying medical marijuana patients from the restrictions included in SB 5279. Unfortunately for those who rely on EBT cards to get by, it was an effort that ultimately fell on deaf ears.
"I find it so difficult to believe that we would allow someone to buy an aspirin, to buy lotion, to buy things that make living pain-free, and can not recognize that medical usage of marijuana are absolutely appropriate to people of all economic status," Darnielle said, according to the Capital Record blog.
"There are all kinds of reasons for people to utilize medical marijuana," Darnielle tells Seattle Weekly. "Even poor people."
"Over the years the Legislature has just added more and more ways the EBT can't be used," she continues, noting the injustice of preventing a parent receiving cancer treatment or battling pain from obtaining a treatment option the state sanctions simply based on their economic status.
"This one just goes a little too far," Darnielle says.
However, whether Darnielle likes it or not, SB 5279 - minus her amendment - is now on its way to the House to be mulled over. It will be interesting to see if that body has more compassion for qualifying medical marijuana patients than the Senate.