The current campaign to force recipients of public assistance to undergo mandatory drug testing in order to be eligible to receive benefits is nothing less than a thinly veiled attempt at genocide, and as such reflects how much certain corners of American society love to judge and hate.
The argument goes something like this: ”Since I have to be drug tested to get a job, welfare [sic] recipients should have to be drug tested to receive benefits.” I think it would be helpful to begin by analyzing this claim piece by piece.
1. “I have to be drug tested to get a job.” In point of fact, you do not. You can apply for a job that doesn’t require drug testing, you can hire on somewhere as an independent contractor, you can open your own business, or you can choose not to work and life off the income your partner or spouse earns while you do odd jobs. Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of people who receive public assistance are single parents – the majority of them women – who don’t have a reliable spouse or partner to fall back on and don’t have the money or the skills to open their own business. These women have children who depend on public assistance to eat. Can anyone really say that they support depriving children of food, clothing, and shelter because their mother has a drug problem? What’s more, because of this disproportionate number of women this policy would affect, it is inherently discriminatory. A male who fails the test can resort to petty crime to make enough money to get by – and prey on women, as well. A woman is less likely to do so, especially if she has children. Male or female, it simply isn’t good public policy to leave people little choice but to resort to illegal ways to get money to eat.
2. Within statement #1 there is an implication that drug testing screens out casual drug users. It does not. There are more than a few casual drug users who are not only employed today but passed a drug test to get their job. If you know you have a urine test coming up, you simply stop using for thirty days. Drug testing screens out addicts who, despite the tendency of conservatives to claim otherwise, is an illness – not a moral deficiency. The difference between the pro-testing contingent and a public assistance recipient is that the pro-testing crowd has insurance and could get treatment should they become addicted. If, in fact, mandatory drug testing for those receiving public assistance should become law, a person on public assistance who developed an addiction would be less likely to seek treatment for fear that it would disqualify them from the assistance they receive. That would mean that this law would actually contribute to sick people becoming more sick, and the negative consequences of living with an addicted person continue to destroy families for generations. That alone is reason enough to stop pursuing this very bad idea, but there is more.
3. “…welfare [sic] recipients should have to be drug tested to receive benefits.” First, welfare has all but been eliminated. So-called work-fare, wherein people on public assistance are required to work and the government pays part of their salary has replaced it. That sounds good, except many if not recipients work at menial jobs that don’t pay enough to support their families and aren’t offered training to secure a better job. In this way, the system itself keeps these people dependent upon it for their job at Burger King that will never lead to independence – something work fare promised when it was initiated. We have set up a system that keeps the lower socioeconomic class right where it is now, an All-American caste system under the pretense of helping people.
4. To those who would argue that this policy would advance our failed war on drugs, I would point out that the war on drugs was doomed from the start. We have spent literally billions of dollars fighting a war that cannot be won. In truth, since World War II America seems to have developed a love affair with wars that cannot be won of all stripes. I believe we should end the war on drugs, tax and legalize the whole lot, and reap the savings. Even if that isn’t acceptable to you, can you not see how selective this drug testing idea is? Are we trying to save money? Then we should criminalize tobacco and alcohol. Those two substances have cost society untold money in increased need for medical care and destroyed countless families in ways that negatively impact people for generations – yet no move to institute across the board nicotine and alcohol testing as a pre-employment measure. The reason, of course, is clear – we like our booze and we like our cigarettes, and both industries have huge lobbying presences in Washington.
The move to screen all public assistance recipients would, in fact, only screen out addicts. It would not significantly reduce expenses, but it would be one more step in cementing the American caste system – something that conservatives in particular seem eager to do. A quick Google search of relevant studies reveals that roughly fifty percent of Americans have used marijuana in their lifetimes. The percentages of regular users varies depending on the agenda of the website, but one might reasonably and conservatively conclude that around fifteen percent of Americans are at least occasional users of marijuana. The percentage of users over age fifty is growing. It is a one hundred thirteen billion dollar a year industry. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude given that current unemployment rates hover around eight to nine percent that some of you people with jobs are smoking weed. This is further evidence that drug testing doesn’t work, and implies that some of you who support drug testing for public assistance recipients are more than a little hypocritical.
Finally, perhaps the biggest problem with this very bad idea is that it ties compliance with what is considered to be appropriate moral behavior to the right to live. We can dress it up any way we want to, but the truth is the proposed drug testing policy says that if you use illegal substances you don’t deserve to eat. I’m sure that most who support this policy haven’t thought deeply enough to see this, but if you remove someone’s only chance to buy food you are saying they don’t deserve to live. Period.
In 2009, sixty percent of Americans used alcohol. Imagine what would happen if we decided that people who drink don’t deserve to eat. Are we really saying that your right to life hinges on your drug of choice?
Rome is burning, my friends.