Tennessee's Welfare Drug Testing Program Fails Miserably

By McCarton Ackerman 08/08/14

Yet another conservative state is wasting taxpayer dollars on ineffective policy.

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A new amendment passed last month in Tennessee denies welfare assistance to anyone with a previous drug conviction, but like other states with similar policies the law is proving to be a huge waste of taxpayer dollars.

Applicants must answer three questions related to their drug history and are required to be urine tested if they answer yes to any of them. A positive sample results in being required to complete a treatment plan in order to continue receiving benefits and a second positive test means the user is stripped of their welfare aid for six months. Anyone who refuses to answer the questions or submit to testing is denied benefits.

However, only one person has tested positive out of the 812 who applied since the program was launched. Four others were also denied aid for refusing to submit to drug testing. The 0.12% positive rate is far less than the reported 8% of state residents who use illegal drugs.

Supporters of the measure claim that it simply keeps tax dollars from being used to fund a drug problem, but those who oppose it believe the policy demonizes welfare recipients. Similar programs throughout the country have proven to be equally ineffective. Utah spent $30,000 on a welfare drug testing program which found only 12 drug users, while a similar program in Florida ended up costing the state money when testing reimbursement costs for those who passed were factored in.

The latest measure is part of Tennessee’s full-scale attack on drug users this year. Legislation was passed last April which makes it a crime for mothers to use drugs during their pregnancy, meaning they can face jail time for child abuse.

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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.