Don’t force drug tests for welfare money

Mandatory government drug tests violate the Fourth Amendment.

Under the guise of ensuring prudent government spending and personal accountability, state legislatures across the country are proposing that mandatory drug testing be a condition for receiving welfare assistance. Everything from food stamps to unemployment benefits would be awarded only after screening for illicit drug use. Supporters champion this measure as a sensible way to prevent the waste of tax-payersâÄô dollars on âÄújunkiesâÄù and âÄúaddicts.âÄù

Whatever the intent, such drug testing policies violate the constitutional rights of those who are already facing financial hardship and simply will not stand up against legal challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that drug testing constitutes a form of search, and when carried out by a government agency, falls under the regulation of the Fourth Amendment. As a result, probable cause must exist prior to conducting a drug test. The blanket approach of screening all welfare applicants is overly presumptive.

Of course not all mandatory drug testing programs are constitutionally prohibited. Jobs related to public safety or that have the potential to expose the public to danger justifiably warrant pre-emptive drug testing. Additionally, private enterprises are free to conduct random drug screenings as a condition for employment.

Legality issues aside, drug testing mandates are oppressive, imprecise and largely ineffective. The sentiment that drug users are undeserving of government aid is understandable, and mandatory drug testing may very well have a practical and positive impact on government welfare programs.

But the fact remains that this form of financial assistance must be allocated in a manner consistent with the Constitution. That some small percentage of welfare benefits will go toward the purchase of illicit drugs is a regrettable but necessary consequence of constraining government intrusiveness and maintaining personal freedom for all.


This column was originally published by the Daily Cougar at the University of Houston.