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Seven of the United States — Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — have collectively spent millions of dollars to implement mandatory drug testing policies in order for an applicant to qualify for welfare.

Opponents of such laws report that major pharmaceutical companies have lobbied for these policies in order to prevent cannabis from competing with their business under the pretense that the testing policies were implemented in an attempt to save the state from potentially enabling substance abusers.  Others point out that these policies violate constitutional liberties and personal rights, but the most recent uproar is over the outrageous monetary waste spurred by these laws. 

There are more than 87,000 individuals on welfare in the state of Arizona, and each drug test costs around $42. Only applicants flagged as high risk by a pre-application questionnaire are subject to drug testing, but if every single applicant was tested, it could cost the state more than 3 million dollars. Three years after the testing program started, three applicants have tested positive, effectively saving the state from enabling substance abusers with taxpayer dollars.

With the discrepancy between spending and intended savings, the efficiency and effectiveness of the questionnaire is being debated. Other states with similar welfare approval policies are experiencing much the same results. In Missouri, out of almost 70,000 applicants, 69 individuals tested positive resulting in disqualification from government assistance. In Utah, there were 29 disqualifications out of just over 9,000 applicants. Tennessee’s screenings resulted in 24 disqualifications from approximately 11,000 applicants.

The data suggests that drug screening is either unnecessary and/or ineffective, so who stands to benefit from these welfare regulations? Among the chief lobbyists for the implementation of these policies are pharmaceutical companies. Drug testing is a multibillion-dollar industry, but large companies began phasing out screenings citing monetary waste as the reason. To compensate for the profit loss, the pharmaceutical companies that make the tests are lobbying to push drug testing into welfare and public schools.

At the forefront of drug test lobbying is Hoffman-La Roche, the producer of Valium and other sleeping medications. The company also funds anti-cannabis efforts. The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association was created to support the War on Drugs and to increase the level of nationwide drug testing. Interestingly, Florida Governor Rick Scott outsourced his state’s drug screenings to Solantic, his wife’s company, which gained millions from the deal. Before implementing this process, he transferred his $62 million dollar stake in the enterprise to avoid a conflict of interest.

Politicians who support mandatory drug tests for welfare applicants believe it will help deal with the big issues of state budgetary shortages. However, opponents think there are better long-term solutions for the problem of drug addiction. For instance, beefing up education about the body will help citizens make more informed decisions about their health. Additionally, instead of treating addiction as a criminal issue, tackling it as a health concern could do more to diminish nationwide substance abuse. Regardless, the evidence points to a need for drug testing reform.

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