In July 2011, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed a bill into law allowing the state to drug test welfare recipients, denying benefits to those who failed the tests. Although alcohol use is common among the poor and disenfranchised, liquor is not a disqualifying substance but marijuana is.
Illinois and Florida are among other states with similar laws and even more states are planning such legislation. Recently, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven issued a temporary injunction against Florida’s drug testing laws, due to violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
In spite of the legality of these “suspicionless drug tests”, the question of marijuana testing touches on another, more fundamental question of cost-effective self-medication for the poor. Medical insurance is cost-prohibitive at best and benefit-restrictive at worst. The cost of prescription medications – if one can even get them prescribed by physicians wary of so-called “drug seekers” – can put a painful strain on those choked back by these harsh economic times. The group hardest hit by these unfortunate truths is the lower class, who many times are also the nation’s welfare recipients.
With medical marijuana being legal in almost half the nation’s states and the success of those programs in providing affordable, non-lethal pain medication for a multitude of conditions and symptoms, it’s no wonder many poor Americans would choose to turn to marijuana to alleviate their own ailments, rather than scraping to afford prescription drugs and the co-pays to have them prescribed.
If Congress would follow that same logic, it would stand to reason that the poorest of Americans will likely test positive for marijuana, if forced to submit to drug testing to retain welfare benefits. And as long as the federal government knowingly accepts tax payments from legal medical marijuana dispensaries and state governments knowingly accept tax revenues from those same dispensaries, is it not both hypocritical and prejudicial to target those using a recognized form of alternative medicine in order to save money?
Even in states without medical marijuana programs, one cannot ignore the country’s obvious preference to using the non-lethal and purely natural medication instead of turning to pharmaceuticals which often carry dangerous or deadly side effects. Marijuana consumption is, in fact, a $400 billion per year business in the United States.
Perhaps these users are in violation of federal laws but we must ask ourselves if the federal prohibition of marijuana is constitutionally sound, given the Tenth Amendment, which instructs the federal government to stay out of issues which are not specifically assigned them by the Constitution. All other matters are up to the individual states and the people thereof. Clearly, the Constitution does not allow the federal government to legislate morality, such as choosing to ingest a naturally-occurring plant. Given the recent temporary injunction against unreasonable search and seizure in Florida, it would seem the states face a legal battle in this arena as well.
Whose rights take precedence in this case? The rights of the federal and state governments to deny otherwise law-abiding citizens welfare relief from economic ruin, based on prejudicial judgments of an individual’s right to consume a natural substance or the rights of the individual to consume such a substance in order to save money on medications or to alleviate the stress of living in such an economy – much as businessmen consume cocktails after a hard day’s work?
Until welfare recipients are forbidden to smoke tobacco or use alcohol – or to spend their welfare checks on such commodities – there is no logical rationalization in denying them benefits based on a desire to alleviate stress or pain in a cost-effective and non-lethal manner.
Finally, if middle and upper class Americans want to argue for these drug testing laws in an attempt to save tax dollars from being wasted, perhaps those same fiscally-conservative minds should research the cost of continuing marijuana prohibition; for example, a recent report by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron concludes that marijuana legalization would save $7.7 billion per year in total government expenditures, to say nothing of the billions in potential tax revenue earnings and millions of jobs which would be created by legitimate marijuana and hemp industries.
To be sure, in this era of fervent social media and politicians scrambling for voter loyalty, We the People may see a shift in attitude regarding the logic behind the continuation of the federal prohibition and vilification of marijuana. Certainly, the last thing the poorest Americans need is to be further disenfranchised by prejudicial assumptions and unconstitutional invasions of privacy. They vote, too.