Oregon, New Mexico and Maine will no longer allow certain applicants for food stamps to deduct medical marijuana expenses from their incomes after federal officials threatened to slap the three states with penalties.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a nationwide memo to regional directors of the food stamp program after newspaper The Oregonian
contacted the agency about the deductions last week. The newspaper surveyed the 17 medical marijuana states and found that Oregon, New Mexico and Maine allowed deductions for the cost of medicinal cannabis.
In deciding whether a family is poor enough to receive food stamps, the three states had allowed applicants to deduct medical expenses from their incomes. Since all three states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana, they had counted the cost associated with buying medical cannabis as a qualifying medical expenses, reports Noelle Crombie.
Only elderly or permanently disabled Oregonians who qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) could claim the medical marijuana deductions.
The change is only expected to affect a tiny percentage of food stamp recipients, but it is seen as a symbolic blow for medical marijuana advocates.
|Kris Hermes, Americans for Safe Access: “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”|
“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 of Americans for Safe Access (ASA)
, a 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 last Tuesday received the memo from the USDA ordering it to discontinue the medical marijuana 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,” sternly instructed 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 over issuance of SNAP benefits,” she scolded.
Gene Evans, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Human Services, said his agency forwarded the memo to the Oregon Justice Department for review. The department advised his agency to immediately drop the practice of allowing the deductions.
The department of Human Services on Thursday told agency staff that Oregon will stop allowing medical marijuana deductions on food stamp applications. New Mexico and Maine officials also told The Oregonian on Thursday that they, too, have been scolded by federal authorities and will no longer allow the marijuana deductions.
The director of the Oregon Department of Human Services admitted in a Thursday email to The Oregonian that out-of-pocket medical expenses are a challenge for low-income elderly and disabled food stamp recipients.
“While we recognize that Oregon voters have declared marijuana to be medicine, this new guidance from the federal government sets clear direction on allowable medical expenses under federal law,” Erinn Kelley-Siel wrote.
She said state officials will stop approval of any new medical marijuana deductions on food stamp applications; correct the state policy manual to reflect the change; and provide new instructions for staff and food stamp recipients about medical marijuana deductions (as in, there won’t be any more of them).
In Oregon, about 33,000 food stamp recipients are elderly and qualified for Social Security, thus they were eligible for the marijuana food stamp deduction. That represents only about eight percent of the total food stamp caseload.