Feds Threaten States with Penalties Over Medical Marijuana Food Stamp Deductions

Oregon and two other states will no longer allow certain food stamp applicants to deduct medical marijuana expenses from their incomes after federal officials threatened the states with penalties.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a nationwide memo to regional directors of the food stamp program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, after The Oregonian contacted the agency about the practice last week. The newspaper surveyed 17 states that permit marijuana for medicinal use and found three – Oregon, New Mexico and Maine – allowed certain applicants to deduct the cost of the drug from their income when applying for the benefit.

In determining whether a family is poor enough to receive food stamps, Oregon allows applicants to deduct medical expenses from their incomes. Since voters legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal use in 1998, the state has counted the cost associated with obtaining medical marijuana as a qualifying medical expense.

Only elderly or permanently disabled Oregonians who qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance could claim the deductions.

Although the change is expected to affect a small percentage of food stamp recipients, the government’s move was a symbolic blow for medical marijuana advocates.

“It’s a sad day when we have to see this kind of retreat based on what appears to be federal pressure and federal intimidation,” said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, the country’s largest medical marijuana advocacy group. “It makes one wonder when the federal government is going to come around and realize this is indeed a public health issue and address the problem accordingly. It’s a problem only in the sense that the federal government is creating the problem.”

The Oregon Department of Human Services on Tuesday received the memo from the USDA ordering states to discontinue the deduction. The memo states that under federal law, marijuana “has no currently accepted medical use and cannot be prescribed for medicinal purposes.”

“States that currently allow for the deduction of medical marijuana must cease this practice immediately and make any necessary corrections to their state policy manuals and instructions,” wrote Lizbeth Silbermann, director of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service’s program development division.

“States that are not in compliance may face penalties for any overissuance of SNAP benefits,” she wrote.

– Read the entire article at Oregon Live.