There remains a great deal of controversy over whether or not potential Welfare recipients should face mandatory drug testing before becoming eligible to receive benefits such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, or any other taxpayer subsidized social program. I happen to think such a policy makes good sense. It is not unreasonable to demand that a beneficiary of any social program be at least, from the start, in a state of mind that allows him or her to use the assistance responsibly. No one wants to see the system overburdened by bad decision making or have public funds end up going for things not intended by the good will of the people. Drug testing is therefore a good policy.
On the other hand, I also feel that mandatory drug testing is intrusive and it doesn't really tell you much about the person or the quality of their person or work. Different drugs have different effects on different metabolisms and, to lump all drug users, be they recreational marijuana smokers or hardcore meth-heads, together, is just plain stupid. I don't see why a guy who smoked a joint last weekend on his brother-in-law's houseboat should be denied employment or social benefits while the alcoholic who closed down the bar the night before, drunk off his ass, gets all he needs with no questions asked. Plenty of people use drugs occasionally and are quite responsible in all other ways. To single out drug use a prohibitive factor to collecting benefits or employment is misguided.
Now, in the private sector, if I know that company is drug screening employees, then I have two choices. I must either quit using drugs, or apply for a job elsewhere. At this point, and until drug testing becomes universally mandatory, I voluntarily make that choice. There may be an economic consequence, but it remains a trade-off that I would be willing to accept in most cases. The company that I work for does not drug test, and some of our long term employees remain for just that reason.
For Welfare, we still want to ensure that the money we give is used properly, but we also don't want to be too intrusive into their privacy. As an option, we set up a two or three-tiered system of benefits. The first level includes a voluntary drug test and, should the applicant pass this test, they receive the maximum allowable benefit. If they choose to test and then come up positive for drug use, they then would have the choice of rehabilitation, in which they could still collect a reduced benefit, and subsequently, should they demonstrate clean living at a later time, they then become eligible to receive the maximum.
This system would allow the recipient to voluntarily take the drug test and also provide the welcome opportunity and financial incentives to kick drugs altogether. Of course, no system is perfect and each program has its obvious flaws, many of which do not surface until it is too late to change direction. Yet, in terms of how we administer social programs, we have enough experience now to make the right changes to ensure fiscal stability for both program and recipient. Let's start out facing reality and be able to adjust, from the onset, to the inevitable.