Florida’s Drug-Testing of the Poor Proves a Failure, but Some States Still Want to Follow their Example

By Kellen Russoniello, George Washington University Law student and NORML Legal Intern

The recent push for implementing drug testing for potential welfare recipients across several states has revealed at least two things: 1. The policy is not economically sound; and 2. It really brings out the hypocrisy in some elected officials.

Last summer, Florida implemented a law requiring all welfare applicants to submit to a mandatory drug test before receiving any benefits (Applicants had to pay the $30 for the test themselves, only to be reimbursed later if they passed. For more information, see this NORML blog post.). Not surprisingly, the program was brought to a quick halt. Back in October of 2011, a federal judge ruled that the Florida drug testing law was unconstitutional.

Further, in the few months that the program was up and running, it was shown that only 2% of welfare applicants tested positive for drugs. About 9% of the general population reports using drugs in the past month. So much for Governor Rick Scott’s theory that the poor use drugs more often than the rest of the populace.

Even more striking is the amount of money that Florida lost from this poorly designed policy. The Tampa Bay Online estimated that $3,400 to $8,200 in savings would be recognized every month from drug testing welfare applicants. As it turns out, the program is estimated to have cost Florida over $200,000. From any perspective, this policy can be regarded as a failure.

Despite the lessons that can be learned from Florida’s debacle, several states are still considering implementing programs to subject their impoverished population to drug tests. The Huffington Post reported that twelve states attempted passing legislation in 2011 that would require drug tests for welfare applicants. Florida, Missouri, and Arizona were the only three that succeeded. However, Pennsylvania has just begun a pilot program in Schuylkill County that subjects certain applicants to drug tests. By tailoring their laws to apply only to applicants that have aroused reasonable suspicion, these states are hoping to avoid constitutional problems like those that ultimately invalidated the Florida law and a similar Michigan law in 2000 (which was affirmed in 2003). Several states have also tried to drug test those who seek unemployment benefits, state employees, and private sector employees, including the passage of an Indiana law that requires drug testing for those in a state job-training program.

When pressed, legislators that support this policy try to justify their position by claiming that the taxpayers should not subsidize drug addiction. But taxpayers pay for much more than just welfare. Some of their money goes towards paying their legislators’ salaries. Wouldn’t this same rationale justify drug testing legislators? This has been the tactic of many Democratic state legislators to thwart Republican efforts to test welfare applicants. In fact, a Republican State representative in the Indiana General Assembly recently pulled a bill after another representative amended it to include drug testing for legislators. The bill was reintroduced and passed by the Indiana General Assembly the following week, which included a section requiring legislators to submit to random drug tests. Missouri and Tennessee currently have bills that would require legislators to submit to drug tests. These were introduced in reaction to a slew of bills aimed at requiring drug tests on different areas of the population. It seems that the legislators who want to drug test the poor aren’t really convinced of the merits of the program when applied to themselves.

Hopefully, state politicians will come to their senses as knowledge about the failure of Florida’s policy becomes more well-known. But given this country’s track record on drug policy, I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath.

To see a hilarious summary of Florida’s drug-test-the-poor policy, watch this Daily Show clip, which includes Florida State Representative Scott Plakon’s and Governor Rick Scott’s reactions to being asked to take a drug test.

72 thoughts

  1. It’s nice to talk about things like “liberty” and “freedom” “personal responsibility” “civic duty.”

    They are just cliche’s that are parroted when those concepts barely reached fruition around the time of Jefferson and Franklin.

    The military industrial complex runs the show, they essentially control the executive.

    How else could presidents from Eisenhower to Johnson carpet bomb Vietnam in a campaign of genocide which served to murder millions and enrich the weapons makers.

    It’s a nice but trite fantasy that America is still what the founding fathers envisioned.

    The media tells you who to hate and what is “important.” The banks take your money and integrate it into a massive usury scam. Wall Street lacks the lights but is a strip where gambling occurs, much like in Las Vegas. Hospitals and Insurance are in cahoots with each other. Petroleum and Autos are also in mutually beneficial schemes together. Prisons are built and maintained to create profit; once built, they are meant to be filled with disproportionate numbers of the poor and minorities. Starting with Reagan and a fake arms race where the US always held exponentially more nukes that the USSR, the country is buried in a sedimentary bed or debt that is inescapable when they can’t even pass a budget without a deficit in the trillions.

    And things are getting no better. “Yes we can” and “change…” were meaningless cheesy slogans like “I like Ike.” Stupid pointless rhetoric and false promises. The phrase “voter apathy” is more accurately described as “learned helplessness.”

    The ongoing Cannabis prohibition is no surprise in all of this corruption and stupidity. Look around. It’s a giant toilet and the swirl of water and poo is accelerating downward.

  2. The revolution has already started. People are starting to wake up to the bullshit that is government.

    People are waking up becuase poeple like me type on the internet and speak to those around me….daily.

    I am doing something…

    Join me.

  3. BRAVO JIM ! I agree with everything you just said. Infact I do my best to get people to understand those things. Its a huge up hill battle.

    Now if there were a few million more like us to go inform the fools who think they are free, maybe, just maybe we could change things….though its doubtful. I shall keep trying anyway.

  4. That’s a lot of doom and gloom there, Jim. A change can happen. 14 states have already permitted the use of cannabis and others are considering it. There are candidates poised to act on cleaning up some of these laws. It’s up to the people as a whole to stop sitting in the corner wringing our hands and saying, “Oh whoa is me. It’s all hopeless.” These people need our help to help us. Those 14 states are proof that it isn’t hopeless.

    And Not My America – I have already joined you. I am quite vocal with this subject wherever I go. But we need to become more active. We should steer people toward these petitions and even help collect signatures. Without these signatures, the bills have no hope of even coming to a vote. I’ve talked with numerous people who still believe cannabis is illegal because it is dangerous. I have opened some eyes with the truth and they now support us.

  5. You deserve this America! Those of us that “clean up our act” in order to get a job ARE HELPING THIS PROCESS CONTINUE! You should NEVER give up your 4th Amendment rights, just so you can be more a slave of an employer! EMPLOYERS: Whether or not you need me to be sober at work, I swear to you that I will be sober before, during, and until I get home from work. You will get no better from an alcoholic, so why expect more of me than them? Employees, do what you do, and don’t worry about it, when 7 out of 10 applicants for any job show up dirty for THC-metabolites but nothing else, it will become clear to employers that UAs aren’t getting them what they want, and more importantly, it is costing them too much in turn-over time between when someone gets fired or quits, to when they have a replacement. UAs are an assumption of guilt with no basis, or probable cause. You people who give in to taking them are only helping perpetuate this crime against your fellow Americans! Just say no to UAs!!!


  6. The law may have issues but…

    If I have to piss in a cup to make the money that supports their welfare, they should have to piss in a cup to get that money too.

  7. Actually, you shouldn’t have to piss in a cup to hold a job without getting paid at least minimum wage for all the hours you are abiding by the wishes of your employer.

    The way I see it, they can have me by the nuts for eight hours a day – period. If they want to hold my nuts 24/7, then they should pay me for my efforts to do their will 24/7 – otherwise, it is slavery.

  8. you know ive worked a lot of jobs and have had pretty cool bosses that would let us smoke, on the job, while the big wigs weren’t around, we did our just fine and had fun while doing it, hehehehe. i dont really see how marijuana affects someones ability to work. if anything, it helps with tedious work that is otherwise boring. it’s kinda sad that some of the best employees are getting fired for popping thc, only to replaced by someone who is drug free and who likes to waist company time. i have never seen anybody come in to work high and be sent home, including myself, but i have seen people come into work drunk, make a scene or do something completely imcompetent and be sent home. i’ve looked at managers before with bloodshot eyes, high as fuck, took their orders, and did them with excellent accuracy and speed. jobs that required both physical and mental concentration. i remember a certain situation, when i was having trouble diagnosing a car, was getting really frustrated with it, took a lunch break, smoked a bowl, and came back and the frustration was not only gone, but the problem became obvious. people think marijuana makes you stupid and lazy, but that’s all in the person who decides if they wanna do or don’t. that’s what life is all about. doing or not doing. marijuana actually calms my emotions down and allows me to think with a clear head. i can get into a heated fight with my wife, smoke weed, and everything is suddenly ok. i dont see how it impairs people, even driving, it makes me a more cautious and aware driver. no one should be pissing in a cup for marijuana, period. for other drugs, yes, but lest back to the assumption that people on welfare are BUMS and using DRUGS. That’s discrimination clear as day. It alarms me, the amount of people, people so quick to give up their rights. I am against all drug testing, I think it should only be given unless it has become a complete problem, someone using meth, heroin, cocaine, drugs that really interfere with ones ability to control their life. Weed? Get the fuck outta here!

  9. Smoke it anyway . 10,000 + yrs vs 74 yrs , seriously? feds will lose everything and it will cost them everything only just to lose.

Leave a Reply