The idea was simple: Make people take a drug test when they apply for assistance, and if they fail the test, they get no help from the state.
If it worked, the theory went, drug users will come off the public dole and it will save the state money.
Florida passed such a law and began testing. But according to an article earlier this year in The Miami Herald, documents submitted in a case challenging the law revealed that only 108 (or 2.6 percent) of the 4,086 applicants who were tested failed. Most often they tested positive for marijuana, not crack cocaine or other hard drugs. About 40 scheduled the test and did not show up, but even assuming the no-shows were afraid of failing, that is still scant positive results.
When the welfare money saved was compared to the cost of the testing, the state ended up losing $45,780. That does not include attorney and court fees and thousands of hours of staff time to do the job.
This is not about money, supporters of the plan replied. It is about keeping people off illegal drugs, which is a worthy goal.
However, the scheme seems to be based on the assumption that without welfare money, drug users would quit using drugs and get clean. Once clean, they could find a job and become a productive member of the community — or, at least, pass the test to qualify for welfare.
There is no evidence so far that Florida’s law has reduced the use of illegal drugs in that state. Drug users have many ways to get money to support their use — habitual or recreational. In many cases, this involves things much more detrimental to the public good than the misuse of welfare.
None of this made any difference to Georgia, which recently passed a drug-welfare law. Legislators in other states, including Alabama, have discussed similar bills.
Despite this evidence, Florida remains undeterred and has recently passed a law that will allow state agencies to drug test employees and fire those who test positive.
Legal challenges to the Florida law have called it a violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition of “unreasonable searches.” Floridians might want to challenge it as an unreasonable expense and insist that the money be spent on enforcing existing laws against drugs and the rehabilitation of those addicted.
They might also insist, as one pundit has suggested, that drug testing be required for anyone wishing to run for the Legislature. What is good for the goose, as they say, is good for the gander.