Unemployed And Smoking Weed? The Government Might Cut Off Your Benefits


Republicans in Congress are urging President Donald Trump to sign a bill requiring states to drug test people before they receive unemployment benefits.

This is a controversial issue.

It's now with Trump, who can sign it or not to make it real. He is expected to sign it.


Congress recently passed a bill undoing a restriction set by President Barack Obama on unemployment drug testing.

In 2012, a law was passed saying drug testing for unemployment benefits was only allowed for people who work jobs that "regularly conduct drug testing," like truck driving, for example.

Obama made sure  that had a narrow interpretation so states could only drug test people who work jobs where employers regularly drug test after hiring.

This meant fewer unemployment beneficiaries could be drug tested.

The new Republican bill would undo this, so states could make more unemployed people get drug tested before getting benefits.

Drug testing for unemployment benefits is based on the idea the government doesn't want to be paying for drugs.

It's like when you decide to not give a homeless person money because you think he or she might be using it for alcohol — it's a judgement you're making on who is deserving of help and who isn't. But, it's interesting the government is so concerned about drug use by the unemployed. The government pays for public parks, for example, but you don't have to get a drug test to use one.

While it is true some unemployed people use drugs, the reasoning to drug test falls back on stereotypes that all unemployed people are lazy and self-sabotaging.

Recent data shows black, Hispanic or Latino people are disproportionately unemployed compared to the national average, so we have more stereotypes related to drug use at play here.

(Mind you, white Americans have a higher rate of drug use.)

This arguably means populations of color are further held back by American drug policies. See, for instance, the difference of incarceration rates for black marijuana possessors and white marijuana possessors.

The drug testing rule is done on a state-by-state basis, so individual states decide whether or not to drug test.

Many states have tried it out before, and many states have found it to be a total waste of money.

In 2015, North Carolina enacted a law stating people who get public aid need to be screened and possibly tested for drugs. If they had been convicted of a felony in the previous three years, they automatically were referred to testing.

Of the 7,600 people North Carolina screened and tested for drugs, 0.3 percent actually tested positive for drug use.

To put that in context, the rate of drug use in North Carolina is eight percent — nationally, it's 9.4 percent.

This isn't an uncommon result.

When they tried drug testing for public benefits in Tennessee in 2015, 0.17 percent of 39,121 people were found to be using.

When they tried it in Arizona, just one person tested positive out of 87,000 welfare recipients.

Meanwhile, drug testing costs money.

In Missouri in 2013, drug testing unemployment recipients cost $500,000. Twenty people tested positive.

So by drug testing to not give money to people using drugs, the government is really just wasting money on drug tests for people not using drugs, and then they have to pay them the benefits.

Drug testing for unemployment has been tried and tested, and now it seems states will have even more opportunities to spend money trying to find something that's not there.

Citations: Unemployed? Congress wants to make it easier for states to drug test you to collect benefits. (Vox), Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (Bureau of Labor Statistics), North Carolina is the latest state to find welfare recipients rarely use illegal drugs (Vox), North Carolina started drug testing its welfare recipients and learned something totally unexpected (AOL), Kansas follows Missouri's path in testing suspected drug users on welfare (The Wichita Eagle), When It Comes To Illegal Drug Use, White America Does The Crime, Black America Gets The Time (Huffington Post)