Massachusetts House bans marijuana purchases with public assistance

retail marijuana massachusetts

The Massachusetts House of Representatives on Tuesday took a step toward barring welfare recipients from using their cash benefits to purchase recreational marijuana.

The prohibition would take effect on July 1, 2018, or once legislation has been enacted following a report by the Committee on Marijuana Policy. Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, a Taunton Republican, proposed an outright ban on the purchase of marijuana with electronic benefit transfer cards, except for medicinal purposes.

She likened her proposal to lawmakers’ proactive ban on using welfare benefits at casinos. State statute also bars welfare benefits from being used to purchase alcoholic beverages, Lottery tickets, cigarettes or pornography.

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On a 121-37 vote, the House adopted a further amendment proposed by Rep. Mark Cusack, a Braintree Democrat and House chair of the marijuana committee. Cusack said the further amendment would allow O’Connell’s proposal to take effect unless the matter is addressed through legislation.

The sale of marijuana, except for medicinal purposes, is not yet permitted, and officials have targeted the summer of 2018 for pot shop licenses to begin. The debate on the amendment featured the maiden floor speech by Cusack, who was first elected in 2010. Rep. Susannah Whipps, an Athol Republican, voted for Cusack’s further amendment.

Cusack’s amendment was opposed by Democrat Reps. James Dwyer, of Woburn; Colleen Garry, of Dracut; and Jonathan Zlotnik, of Gardner. Other than that, it was a party line vote.

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