Drug Testing

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Forced Drug Tests for College Students a No-No, Judge Rules

A US district court judge in Missouri ruled Friday that a technical college violated the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures when it ordered all students to submit to mandatory, suspicionless drug tests. The judge did allow the drug testing of students in a small number of programs where school officials could make a reasonable argument that public safety was at stake.

The ruling by Judge Nanette Laughrey in Jefferson City came in Barrett v. Claycomb, a case filed by Linn State Technical College students against the college and its president, Donald Claycomb, after the college announced in 2011 it would require all incoming students to undergo drug testing.

Federal courts have traditionally held that drug testing by government entities without particularized suspicion that an individual is using drugs is unconstitutional. The federal courts have upheld only limited exceptions -- for minor school students, for certain law enforcement personnel, and for public safety -- but Linn State had argued that its policy was constitutional because some of its students were training in professions with public safety implications.

But citing the school's own admission that there had never been a drug-related accident in the 50-year history of the campus and closely reading previous federal court decisions on the public safety exception, Judge Laughery found that in only three academic programs of the 28 offered by the school was there a sufficient public safety interest that would allow suspicionless drug testing.

The judge issued a permanent injunction barring Linn State from conducting suspicionless drug tests of students except in those three programs. She also ordered the school to destroy all existing urine samples from students who are not in those programs and to refund the $50 drug test cost to all those students.

The students in the case were represented by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, which challenged the drug testing policy in a 2011 lawsuit.

"Like most Americans, Missourians are tired of the War on Drugs and policies that assume that everyone is guilty of illegal drug use," said ACLU of Eastern Missouri executive director Jeffrey Mittman. "The court recognized that illusory safety concerns can be used 'to mask unconstitutional purposes.'"

"Forcing students to provide urine samples violates their constitutional rights," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU-EM. "To make matters worse, students had to pay the college $50 each for the tests that violated their privacy."

Jefferson City, MO
United States

North Carolina Legislature Overrides Drug Test Bill Veto

North Carolina's Republican Gov. Pat McCrory last month vetoed a welfare drug testing bill championed by his own party in the legislature, saying it was "a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion" and "not a smart way to combat drug abuse." But this week, the legislature managed to override that veto.

In votes in the General Assembly Tuesday and the Senate Wednesday, the Republican-controlled legislature chose to move forward with the drug tests, which will require some welfare applicants to pay out of their own pockets for drug testing before they can receive benefits.

Six Democrats joined the Republicans in the Assembly, making the veto possible by a margin of just two of the needed 3/5 of elected members. Three Republican assemblymembers voted against it. In the Senate, three Democrats voted for the override, with no Republicans voting against it. Republican senators had enough votes to override the veto on their own.

The legislation, House Bill 392, will require people applying for the state's welfare and food stamp programs to undergo drug testing if social service workers determine there is reasonable suspicion they are using drugs. It will also require county workers to ensure that applicants do not have outstanding felony warrants and were not violating probation.

The votes to override were sharply criticized by civil liberties advocates.

"It's very disappointing that the legislature put so much effort into passing this cruel and constitutionally suspect bill. HB 392 does nothing to help those who test positive for drug use get treatment, but it does allow the government to conduct costly, unnecessary, and unreasonably intrusive searches of North Carolinians who seek public assistance to care for their families," said ACLU of North Carolina policy director Sarah Preston in a Wednesday statement.

"Forcing people in need to pay up front for urine tests is not only cruel but will likely deter many low-income families from even applying for assistance. Why the legislature was so adamant about passing this bill is unclear, since all available evidence shows that public aid applicants are no more likely to use drugs than the general public, and similar programs in other states have been found to be unconstitutional and fiscally wasteful," Preston pointed out.

Indeed, other states that have implemented such programs have found them costly and ineffective. In Florida, only 2% of applicants tested turned up positive, while early numbers from Utah and Oklahoma suggest similarly uninspiring results.

Charlotte, NC
United States

ACLU-Illinois Sues Chicago Over Public Housing Drug Tests

The ACLU of Illinois Thursday filed a class-action lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) over its policy requiring drug testing of residents in mixed-income developments. The ACLU charges in US District Court that the CHA's policy of suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Lawsuit plaintiff Robert Peery (aclu-il.org)
A positive drug test would lead to the eviction of the resident.

The CHA instituted the mixed-income residence drug testing program as part of its "Plan for Transformation," which tore down many of the city's crime-ridden high-rise housing developments and replaced them with mixed-income developments. Residents of the demolished low-income housing developments were given the option of moving into the new properties, but were required to take an initial drug test and be tested again every time the lease was renewed.

"Through the CHA's mixed-income program, public housing families reside in housing that is new, privately-owned and privately operated, alongside market-rate and affordable renters. One of the requirements of renters is that they follow property rules," CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks said in a statement Wednesday. "And if those rules happen to include drug testing, then public housing families -- like their market-rate and affordable renter neighbors -- must adhere to those rules."

The suit, filed on behalf of lead plaintiff Joseph Peery, is seeking a temporary injunction to block drug testing and a permanent ban on the practice. It also asks that the CHA be ordered to pay plaintiffs' legal fees.

"Mr. Peery repeatedly has taken and passed a suspicionless drug test," the lawsuit says. "Mr. Peery is a law-abiding person, and does not use illegal drugs. He strongly objects to the CHA's suspicionless drug testing. He finds it humiliating and invasive, and it makes him feel stigmatized as a presumptive criminal and drug user."

"I'm required to go into the business office, urinate in a jar, then hand it to an office staffer. Anyone working in or visiting the office can watch the process," Peery said at a Wednesday press conference. "It's embarrassing. You can only imagine how the grandmothers in the developments feel. We're being singled out in public housing. It's not fair."

"This misguided policy unfairly stigmatizes Mr. Peery and CHA residents like him," said Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel at the ACLU of Illinois. "It presumes he is guilty of illegal drug use, solely because he is a public housing resident, until he proves otherwise with a drug test."

"No one should have to suffer an invasion of their privacy -- like forced urinalysis -- in order to live in their own home," added ACLU staff attorney Karen Sheley.

Chicago, IL
United States

North Carolina Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes

A bill that would require public benefits recipients to take a drug test upon suspicion they are using drugs passed won final approval in the North Carolina legislature late last week and now heads for the governor's desk. The bill had passed both houses of the legislature earlier this month, but had to win a concurrence vote in the Senate after the House amended it.

Last Thursday, the Senate gave final approval to the bill, passing it 32-4 without debate. That despite concerns raised in the House that it would push drug users away without encouraging them to get help.

The bill, House Bill 392, requires participants in the state's Work First program, which offers cash benefits, training, and support services to families, to submit to drug testing if authorities have a reasonable suspicion they are on drugs. The bill also requires stringent background checks to ensure recipients don't have probation or parole violations or outstanding felony warrants.

Republican senators amended the bill to make it more palatable by inserting language clarifying that drug test results would remain confidential and that people who tested positive would be referred to treatment resources. They also deleted language that required county employees to tell potential recipients they wouldn't be drug tested if they didn't apply for Work First.

"We've worked really, really hard to make this bill fair," said bill sponsor Sen. Dean Arp (R) during debate earlier this month. "I hope my colleagues feel we tried to address their concerns."

He didn't convince Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Chapel Hill), the only senator who took to the floor to speak against the bill before it passed the first time.

"There is no evidence that people who are getting Work First checks are more likely... to be drug users," she said. "This is just a stigma, and one more kicking people when they are down."

And it is a burden on county social service departments and the taxpayers, Kinnaird said. "It's an added burden time-wise, paperwork-wise," she said. "And it's an unfunded mandate."

Imposing drug testing on public benefits recipients has been an increasingly popular move among Republican-dominated state legislatures in the last few years. States such as Florida that have passed bills to require mandatory, suspicionless drug testing have, however, run into problems with the federal courts, which view drug testing as a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and thus require probable cause or a search warrant.

A second generation of public benefits drug testing bills, such as the one passed last week in North Carolina, seeks to get around the constitutional issue by specifying that only beneficiaries who somehow arouse particularized suspicion of drug use are subject to testing. Those laws have yet to be challenged in the federal courts.

Raleigh, NC
United States

Michigan House Approves Welfare Drug Test Bill

The Republican-controlled Michigan House Friday approved a bill that would allow for the suspicion-based drug testing of welfare recipients. The bill, House Bill 4118, now heads to the state Senate.

The bill would set up a pilot program in three counties, to be evaluated after one year. The Department of Human Services would report results to the legislature.

It would require new welfare applicants to undergo a screening for drug use using an "empirically validated substance abuse screening tool," and if the screening indicates the likelihood of drug use, "the applicant is required to take a substance abuse test." The same procedure would apply to existing welfare recipients, who would be required to be screened annually.

Drug testing would be paid for by the state, unless the applicant or recipient tested positive. In that case, he or she would have to pay for the test.

People who tested positive on a drug test could continue to receive benefits if they enter drug treatment, while those refusing or failing to follow treatment would lose their benefits.

The Michigan legislature is following in the footsteps of a handful of other states that have passed public benefits drug testing bills, despite evidence in recent weeks that such programs have few tangible benefits. In Utah, for example, authorities screened more than 4,400 welfare applicants, but found only nine people who tested positive on drug tests.

Lansing, MI
United States

North Carolina Welfare Drug Testing Bill Moving

A bill that would require public benefits recipients to take a drug test upon suspicion they are using drugs passed the state Senate Wednesday. It had already passed the House, and now returns there for a concurrence vote after it was amended in the Senate.

The bill, House Bill 392, requires participants in the state's Work First program, which offers cash benefits, training, and support services to families, to submit to drug testing if authorities have a reasonable suspicion they are on drugs. The bill also requires stringent background checks to ensure that recipients are not probation or parole violators or have outstanding felony warrants.

The measure is part of a package of conservative bills being rammed through the Republican-dominated legislature. This session, Republicans have passed abortion restrictions tied to an anti-sharia law bill, repealed the Racial Justice Act, and disqualified the state from receiving federal funds for benefits for the long-term unemployed, in addition to hammering away at public benefits recipients with the welfare drug testing bill.

Those actions have generated weeks of Moral Mondays protests by social justice and civil rights activists. More than 700 people have been arrested to far in Moral Mondays civil disobedience at the state capitol.

Republican senators amended the bill to make it more palatable by inserting language clarifying that drug test results would remain confidential and that people who tested positive would be referred to treatment resources. They also deleted language that required county employees to tell potential recipients that they wouldn't be drug tested if they didn't apply for Work First.

"We've worked really, really hard to make this bill fair," said bill sponsor Sen. Dean Arp (R). "I hope my colleagues feel we tried to address their concerns."

He didn't convince Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Chapel Hill), the only senator who actually took to the floor to speak against the bill.

"There is no evidence that people who are getting (Work First) checks are more likely... to be drug users," she said. "This is just a stigma, and one more kicking people when they are down."

And it is a burden on county social service departments and the taxpayers, Kinnaird said. "It's an added burden time-wise, paperwork-wise," she said. "And it's an unfunded mandate."

Raleigh, NC
United States

Utah Spent $26K to Ferret Out Welfare Drug Users, Found Nine

Last year, Utah joined the handful of states that have passed laws mandating drug tests for people seeking welfare benefits. To avoid constitutional challenges, the state created a screening process to come up with a reasonable suspicion that certain welfare applicants were using drugs.

But preliminary data reported by the Salt Lake Tribune shows that of 4,425 people screened for drug use after seeking aid, only 813 were deemed to be at high risk of drug use, only 394 were actually subjected to drug testing, and of those, only nine were denied benefits because they tested positive and five are undergoing treatment.

The state spent more than $26,000 to achieve these results. It spent more than $5,000 to administer the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI) test to applicants and more than $20,000 to pay for drug testing. Those figures do not include staff costs to administer the SASSI test or the costs of drug treatment.

Of the 813 SASSI test-takers who ranked high, more than 300 tested negative, 163 chose to abandon the aid application process and 137 were denied eligibility based on other criteria. Others had false positives or incorrect SASSI scores or failed to show up for the drug test.

The SASSI Institute claims its diagnostic test is 94% accurate at detecting people with a high probability of substance abuse, but the Utah numbers belie those claims. Of those assessed as likely drug or alcohol abusers by the test, only 1% actually tested positive for drugs. In the best case -- assuming that everyone who abandoned the aid application process or didn't show up for a drug test was actually using drugs -- the predictive value of the SASSI test was under 50%.

"It seems silly to drug test hundreds. It's not worth the money they're spending," Gina Cornia of Utahns Against Hunger told the Tribune, adding that welfare workers could still screen clients for substance abuse the old-fashioned way -- by forging relationships with them.

Geoffrey Landward, deputy director for Utah's Department of Workforce Services, wasn't ready to draw any conclusions.

"People can read the numbers and make their own conclusions," Landward said. "This was a policy decision made by the legislature, signed into law by the governor, and our responsibility is to execute as best we can."

Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Oklahoma Welfare Drug Screening Finds Few Dopers

Last year, the Oklahoma legislature passed and Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed into law a bill mandating drug screening for welfare applicants. The bill was designed to save the state money by weeding out drug users seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.

But the new law is finding few welfare drug users. According to the state Department of Human Services (DHS), in the first four months that the law was in effect, some 1,300 people underwent screening to see if there was reasonable suspicion they were using drugs, but only 29 were denied benefits. That is about 2.2% of those screened, a drug use level well below the national average of about 8%.

Some 340 people were deemed by the screening process to be likely drug users, but again, only 29 of them were denied benefits. That is closer to the 8% national average, but also shows that more than 90% of those determined by screening to be likely drug users were not.

And of those 29 people denied benefits, only 16 actually failed a drug test. Thirteen others simply refused to comply with demands for additional testing.

The testing and screening procedures have cost the state $74,000, according to DHS. According to the Okahoma TANF Program, the average TANF benefit is $3,500 a year, meaning at most, the state will have saved about $25,000 net through the drug testing program -- but only if all 29 people are denied benefits for an entire year. The law allows people denied benefits to seek them again after six months if they have completed drug treatment.

There are no figures available on how long those 29 people were denied benefits, but at best, the Oklahoma welfare drug testing programs appears to be a wash, at least when it comes to saving the state money. It's not so easy to put a dollar value on demonizing poor people as drug addicts or humiliating them by forcing them to undergo drug testing to obtain benefits.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

Good, Bad Drug Measures Die Along with Farm Bill

The Farm Bill (House Bill 1947) died in the House Thursday morning as Democrats rebelled against deep cuts to food stamps. The vote to kill it came after the House had approved separate amendments that would have allowed for limited hemp production, but also would have allowed states to require drug tests for food stamp applicants.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) saw his hemp amendment pass the House, only to die along with the farm bill. (wikimedia.org)
In an historic first, the House passed an amendment offered by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Thomas Massie (R-KY) that would allow hemp to be grown for research purposes. The amendment passed 225-200, despite a last-minute lobbying blitz against it from the DEA, complete with a DEA talking points memo obtained by the Huffington Post.

Still, despite the DEA's concerns that allowing limited hemp production for research would make law enforcement's job more difficult, a majority of lawmakers weren't buying, and amendment sponsors and hemp advocates pronounced themselves well-pleased.

"Industrial hemp is an important agricultural commodity, not a drug," said Rep. Polis. "My bipartisan, common-sense amendment would allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes in states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal. Many states, including Colorado, have demonstrated that they are fully capable of regulating industrial hemp. The federal government should clarify that states should have the ability to regulate academic and agriculture research of industrial hemp without fear of federal interference. Hemp is not marijuana, and at the very least, we should allow our universities -- the greatest in the world -- to research the potential benefits and downsides of this important agricultural commodity."

"Industrial hemp is used for hundreds of products including paper, clothing, rope, and can be converted into renewable bio-fuels more efficiently than corn or switch grass," said Rep. Massie. "It's our goal that the research this amendment enables would further broadcast the economic benefits of the sustainable and job-creating crop." 

"Because of outdated federal drug laws, our farmers can't grow industrial hemp and take advantage of a more than $300 million dollar market. We rely solely on imports to sustain consumer demand. It makes no sense," said Blumenauer. "Our fear of industrial hemp is misplaced -- it is not a drug. By allowing colleges and universities to cultivate hemp for research, Congress sends a signal that we are ready to examine hemp in a different and more appropriate context."

Nineteen states have passed pro-industrial hemp legislation. The following nine states have removed barriers to its production: Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

 "Vote Hemp applauds this new bipartisan amendment and we are mobilizing all the support we can. This brilliant initiative would allow colleges and universities the opportunity to grow and cultivate hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp. "It would only apply to states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal in order for those states to showcase just how much industrial hemp could benefit the environment and economy in those regions," continues Steenstra.

"Federal law has denied American farmers the opportunity to cultivate industrial hemp and reap the economic rewards from this versatile crop for far too long," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress should lift the prohibition on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp as soon as possible. Allowing academic research is an important first step towards returning industrial hemp cultivation to American farms."

Drug reformers' and hemp advocates' elation over passage of the hemp amendment was short-lived however, as the Farm Bill went down to defeat for reasons not having anything to do with hemp. But the upside to the bill's defeat was that it also killed a successful Republican-backed amendment that would have allowed states to drug test people applying for food stamps, now known officially as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

"If adopted, this amendment would join a list of good-government reforms contained in the farm bill to save taxpayer money and ensure integrity and accountability within our nutrition system," said its sponsor, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), who added that it would ensure that food stamps go only to needy families and children.

But House Democrats were infuriated by the amendment. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), said there was no evidence people on food stamps were any more likely to use drugs than anyone else and that the measure was meant only to embarrass and humiliate people on food stamps.

 "It costs a lot of public money just to humiliate people," she said. "It'll cost $75 for one of these drug tests, and for what purpose? Just to criminalize and humiliate poor people."

"This is about demeaning poor people," added Rep. James McGovern (D-MA). "And we've been doing this time and time again on this House floor."

The food stamp drug testing amendment was just part of an overall House Republican assault on the food stamp program that would have cut it by more than $20 billion. It was that attack on food stamps that led Democrats to walk away from the bill. [Ed: Perhaps not just over the cuts -- a National Journal article reports the drug testing amendment cost it votes too.]

Washington, DC
United States

Texas to Drug Test Some Unemployment Applicants

With Republican Gov. Rick Perry's signature Friday, a bill that would require some people seeking unemployment assistance to undergo drug tests has become law. But critics say it is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

Gov. Perry signs unemployment drug testing bill. (governor.state.tx.us)
Perry signed into law Senate Bill 21, which will require applicants trying to find work in occupations where drug testing is already prevalent, such as aviation and truck driving, to undergo written screening for possible drug use. If that screening indicates possible drug use, the applicant would then have to take and pass a drug test. Failure to pass the drug test will lead to a denial of unemployment benefits.

Unemployment benefits are available to people who lose their jobs for lack of work. People who lose their jobs because of drug use are already ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The new law allows people to receive unemployment benefits despite a positive drug test if they immediately seek drug treatment or if they are taking a prescription drug under a doctor's supervision.

"Texas is a state where personal responsibility is very important, and recipients of unemployment benefits have a responsibility to be prepared to work when an opportunity presents itself," Gov. Perry said in a signing statement. "Our system is designed to provide assistance to people through a difficult time in their lives, not subsidize those who would misuse the system to live a drug-abusing lifestyle. This bill protects the resources that should be reserved for those truly in need."

"Senate Bill 21 was one of the most important bills I carried this session because it will help ensure someone who loses a job, through no fault of their own, will be ready to go back to work when another opportunity opens," bill sponsor Sen. Tommy Williams said. "My goal is to send a clear message and to get people help they need."

But neither Williams nor Perry provided any evidence that laid-off workers seeking benefits are any more likely to use drugs than anyone else.

Critics of the new law said it only "adds insult to injury" for workers laid off through no fault of their own. "The bill is in search of a problem that does not exist," the critics added. "There is no trend of increased drug use among those on unemployment. Data are also lacking to suggest people in need of government assistance are more likely to be drug users."

Austin, TX
United States

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