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Employees roll joints behind the sales counter at Medicine Man marijuana dispensary in Denver. (AP) Employees roll joints behind the sales counter at Medicine Man marijuana dispensary in Denver. (AP)

Employees roll joints behind the sales counter at Medicine Man marijuana dispensary in Denver. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg January 24, 2014

Fox's Kilmeade: Colo. food stamp recipients can turn their benefits into cash at ATMs

We are a scant few weeks into the era of legal recreational pot in Colorado and so far, there are no reports of increased driving accidents or violence. But Fox News found a different point of concern. Brian Kilmeade, co-host of Fox and Friends, honed in on the connection between pot and food stamps, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

"Can people collecting food stamps in Colorado add marijuana to their shopping list?" Kilmeade asked. "Right now, the answer is yes. Because there’s nothing blocking using government benefit cards in pot shop ATMs."

In this fact-check, we are looking specifically at Kilmeade’s claim that people receiving food stamps in Colorado can use an ATM to get cash that they can use in turn to purchase marijuana.

We reached out to Fox News and got no response.

Federal and Colorado law says that food stamps must be used for food (hat tip here to Media Matters). The U.S. Department of Agriculture says "SNAP benefits can never be withdrawn as cash."

So if SNAP benefits can’t be withdrawn as cash, how can people use them at Colorado pot shops?

They can’t.

Colorado gives SNAP recipients a Quest Card, which is basically a debit card. It’s a cover-all card used by people who sign up for SNAP, low-income energy assistance, welfare (Temporary Aid for Needy Families or TANF) or any other aid they might qualify for.

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People receiving benefits from those other programs can use their Quest Card at an ATM to get cash. But not SNAP, and the card knows the difference, officials with the Colorado Department of Human Services told us.

"The card is programmed to distinguish between a cash withdrawal for TANF, or any other cash benefit, and a food purchase with SNAP dollars," said Dan Drayer, the department’s communications director. "There’s no way they can get SNAP benefits from a machine."

Kilmeade would have been more correct if he had focused on another federal benefit -- Temporary Assistance For Needy Families, or TANF. Nothing would prevent a person with a Quest Card with TANF money on it from using the card in any ATM to get cash, which they could then use to buy marijuana.

Two final points. First, marijuana stores do have ATMs. "Due to the lack of access to banking services for cannabis businesses, purchases generally must be done in cash," said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group.

Second, a SNAP benefit card will only work with foods that are the approved by the USDA. A rumor that food stamps could be used to buy marijuana brownies falls flat because no food that can be eaten in the store, laced with pot or otherwise, would be on the government’s list.

Our ruling

Fox News’ Kilmeade said ATMs give food stamp recipients in Colorado a way to buy marijuana. The technology behind government electronic benefit cards blocks that. While the card could have cash value from another program such as TANF, no ATM would dispense cash based on a person’s food stamp allowance.

We rate the claim False.

Our Sources

Fox News, Fox & Friends, Jan. 21, 2014

Media Matters, Fox pretends Coloradan can buy pot with food stamps, Jan. 21, 2014

US Department of Agriculture, Use of benefits in questionable places, Jan. 16, 2013

Colorado Department of Human Services, Food assistance application, accessed Jan. 23, 2014

Colorado Department of Human Services, State of Colorado Facts about Cash Benefit Program Access, accessed Jan. 23, 2014

Snopes, Brownie points, January 2014

Interview with Dan Drayer, communications director, Colorado Department of Human Services, Jan. 23, 2014

Email interview with Taylor West, deputy director, National Cannabis Industry Association, Jan. 23, 2014

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Fox's Kilmeade: Colo. food stamp recipients can turn their benefits into cash at ATMs

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