Poor Missourians who obtain authorized medical cannabis treatments no longer have to worry about losing their welfare benefits if they test positive for THC. Previously, Missourians who obtained welfare benefits through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program were at risk of losing their benefits if they failed a drug screening. Under the revised policy, announced Wednesday, the Missouri Department of Social Services says it will only drug test some welfare recipients. However, those who fail or opt out of the screening will now be required to complete a substance abuse treatment program, even if they were a lawful medical cannabis user.
Missouri Moves to Correct Unequal Access to Medical Cannabis Treatments
While many states with legal marijuana programs have implemented them in defiance of federal threats of slashed funding, Missouri adopted an inverse approach. In addition to restricting access to medical cannabis out of concern for losing access to millions of dollars in federal subsidies, officials have had to work within the confines of state law regarding welfare programs.
Missouri’s Republican-lead government has not been kind to poor and low-income people. In 2018, lawmakers pushed a number of bills to further tighten access to the state’s welfare programs after passing laws restricting welfare benefits several times in years prior. In 2015, for example, lawmakers overrode a governor’s veto to reduce how long families are allowed to receive benefits under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
Last year, lawmakers slashed other federal aid programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps). As a result, more than 20,000 children, including 11,000 under the age of 5, were removed from the TANF program according to the state’s own Dept. of Social Services. Critics of the cuts have called them abusive to poor children and families.
The attacks on welfare recipients have also directly impacted medical cannabis patients. Under a 2011 law, welfare applicants and recipients must undergo drug screenings. Moreover, state officials must ask applicants about illegal drug use. And since cannabis is illegal under federal law, the Missouri Veterans Commission banned medical cannabis use in veterans’ nursing homes. More than $80 million in federal subsidies fund the state’s veterans’ nursing homes, and officials behind the ban cited a need to not jeopardize that funding.
Lawful Medical Cannabis Patients May Still Have to Complete Substance Abuse Programs
In November 2018, Missouri voters approved Amendment 2, legalizing medical cannabis treatments for patients diagnosed with 10 serious conditions, including Parkinson’s, PTSD, epilepsy, chronic pain and cancer. But the new medical marijuana law, which went into effect in August, did nothing to address the drug screening requirement for welfare recipients. And until this week, the state could revoke benefits for anyone who failed the drug test.
Moving forward, things will work a little differently. Poor and low-income medical cannabis patients on welfare will no longer lose benefits. But they could still face other obstacles. According to spokesperson for the Dept. of Social Services Rebecca Woelfel, some welfare recipients will still have to submit to a drug test. Woelfel didn’t specify how the department would decide who to test.
If a welfare applicant or recipient fails or waives a drug test, but has a valid medical cannabis card, they won’t lose their benefits. Those who fail or waive the screening and do not have a valid medical cannabis card won’t lose their welfare benefits, either, so long as the only drug detected is cannabis. But they will be required to complete a substance abuse treatment program.
While an improvement for poor Missourians using medical cannabis, the new rules could still put some patients’ benefits at risk. If a patient’s medical card expires, for example, yet they still test positive for THC, they would likely have to complete the substance abuse program.