Florida's Welfare Drug Testing Ruled Unconstitutional

By McCarton Ackerman 01/02/14

The judge ruled against the punitive law despite undying support from Florida's much-maligned governor.

Washing away welfare... Photo via Shutterstock

A Florida judge ruled this past Tuesday that the state’s drug testing of welfare users is unconstitutional. Judge Mary S. Scriven struck down the law and said that "the court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”

Gov. Rick Scott, who put the law into place by arguing that the drug testing was necessary to protect taxpayers and families, said he would appeal the ruling. “Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child,” he said in a statement. “We should have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drug use in families – especially those families who struggle to make ends meet and need welfare assistance to provide for their children.”

But even before the judge's ruling, Florida's drug testing had largely proven to be a flop. In April 2012, findings showed that only 108 out of 4,086 welfare applicants (2.6%) who were drug tested showed positive results. In addition, reimbursing the costs of the tests to welfare applicants who tested negative outweighed what the government would have disbursed to people who failed, ultimately costing the state $45,780.

Despite these results, Minnesota became the latest state to randomly test welfare recipients as of yesterday. Kansas will also begin their testing program in July. On the flip side, North Dakota and Virginia rejected measures last year to mandate drug testing for welfare recipients.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.