Why ATMs in Legal Pot Shops Are Wreaking Havoc

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Many of the Colorado shops that are licensed to sell marijuana have installed ATMs, for the convenience of their customers. What could possibly go wrong?

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Colorado legislators voted against a proposed bill to ban the use of government-issued EBT cards (a.ka., food stamps) at ATMs located inside shops selling marijuana. Regulations already don’t allow public-assistance cards to be used to withdraw cash at ATMs in casinos, gun shops, and liquor stores. But a 3-2 vote by state officials turned down the proposal to extend the ban to pot shops—strip clubs as well.

For now at least, however, public-assistance recipients are free to withdraw cash at pot shop ATMs with their EBT cards. Unsurprisingly, Fox News jumped on the announcement, declaring that the decision was the equivalent of OKing “welfare for weed.”

Marijuana supporters in Colorado, in fact, backed the plan mainly so that the budding industry could avoid drawing the attention of the media and the federal government with such “food stamps for pot” headlines. Ultimately, the ban was rejected because activists for the poor and legislators didn’t want to further limit access to benefits among public-assistance recipients. But it won’t be surprising if investigations go on the hunt for tales of EBT cardholders getting cash out of pot shop ATMs and immediately doing some shopping on the spot.

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Meanwhile, law enforcement experts tell the Denver Post that there’s another reason to be concerned about privately-owned ATMs located in or near pot shops:

“That’s not only a disaster waiting to happen; it’s a disaster that will happen,” said Jeff Sweetin, a retired former agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Colorado. “It’s almost an ideal way for the criminal element to operate. Any time you have an easy ability to move large amounts of cash into the system without checks and balances … you’re wide open.”

The main concern is that these ATMs make for an especially quick, easy route for laundering money. Colorado does not regulate ATMs, so it’s often difficult if not impossible to know who owns them or even where they are located. What’s more, the vast majority of pot shop business involves cash transactions, and the more cash flowing in and out of registers and ATMs, the harder it is to track where the money comes from and whether or not it is legitimate. “Organized crime must, by definition, launder their money, and this simply plays into their hand,” said Sweetin. “What a terrific way to get their money into the U.S. banking system.”