PUEBLO COUNTY, Colo. - Critics of legalized marijuana feared that people would find ways to abuse the system, and state records show that some welfare recipients could be involved.
According to the Colorado Department of Human Resources, a debit card for accessing cash from welfare benefits accounts was used 56 times at 19 marijuana dispensary ATMs last month, the first for legal recreational marijuana. A total of $3,895 was withdrawn from those ATMs.
The data doesn't prove that everyone who withdrew cash at a dispensary ATM purchased marijuana with the money. However, with taxpayer money financing welfare benefits, many people believe the situation is more than coincidence.
One of the dispensaries involved is The Greener Side which has two shops in Pueblo County. The owner was unavailable for comment Thursday, but customers had mixed opinions about whether the trend is unethical.
"It doesn't really matter. It's fluid," said a New Mexico man who declined to provide his name. "I can use cash to do this, I can use other cash to do that. But I think if you're spending your welfare money to buy marijuana instead of diapers for your child, you probably have your priorities misplaced."
"It doesn't matter what ATM (welfare recipients) get (money) out of," said an Alamosa man who also wants to remain anonymous. "I admit it appears bad to get (money) from the (ATM) here. So is it better if they go to one downtown, get the cash and come here? But I think (recipients) shouldn't use their benefits to buy marijuana. They're abusing what they've been given for help."
The trend is believed to affect mostly recreational marijuana dispensaries, although many of them also sell medical marijuana which often is considered to be medicine and not a luxury for welfare recipients.
Two problems have resulted from the situation. There's no law prohibiting marijuana purchases by welfare recipients, even though money from the benefits cards is intended for immediate needs such as paying rent or utility bills. Furthermore, the DHS said it's impossible to determine if someone used the money to buy marijuana.
The DHS expressed concern about the situation but feels confident that most welfare recipients use their benefits properly and don't try to buy marijuana.
State lawmakers earlier in this year's session rejected a proposed bill that would have banned ATM withdrawals at dispensaries and strip clubs.