Marijuana Testing State Services Applicants: It’s Just Wrong!

  • by Sabrina Fendrick February 3, 2011

    [The following blog post was submitted to the NORML Women’s Alliance by Anna Diaz.  NORML’s commentary appears in italics below.]

    Urinalysis, the most common form of non-impairment drug testing, unfairly targets marijuana consumers because it screens for the presence of inert byproducts that may be detectable for days, weeks, or even months in former users. This is a discriminatory policy that sanctions individuals who may have consumed cannabis at some previous, unspecified point in time, while most other forms of illicit substance use to go undetected. Further, most marijuana consumers are responsible, hard-working Americans.  NORML believes that it is arbitrary and counterproductive to single these people out for punishment simply because they fail a urine screen.

    By: Anna Diaz

    NORML Women’s Alliance Steering Committee

    Oregon NORML, Co-Founder

    I am a Latina, a forty-year cannabis consumer, a medical cannabis patient and a single mother who has had to use public assistance more than once.  In 2011, Oregon and three other states have introduced bills that would require drug testing for people receiving public assistance.  I am writing to present my unique perspective on this issue, and why individuals should oppose any type of legislation that would require drug testing for all applicants looking to receive state services such as food stamps or unemployment benefits.

    Many groups oppose this type of legislation including the ACLU, various associations of health professionals and, not surprisingly, organizations that assist women and children in need.  One in five Oregonians receive state services.  Currently, 79% of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits – formerly food stamps — in Oregon are awarded to households with minor children.  65% of the children receiving those benefits live in single parent households.  Most of these single parents are women.

    The ACLU position states, “Drug testing welfare recipients as a condition of eligibility is a policy that is scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound.”

    Michigan is the only state to attempt to impose drug testing of welfare recipients – a policy that was struck down as unconstitutional in 2003. The ACLU challenged the mandatory drug-testing program as unconstitutional, arguing that drug testing of welfare recipients violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches. The case, Marchwinski v. Howard, concluded when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision striking down the policy as unconstitutional.

    Further, studies show that welfare recipients are no more likely to use drugs than the rest of the population.  70% of illicit drug users are employed.  The ACLU also cites research showing that drug testing is an expensive and ineffective way to uncover drug abuse.

    OR NORML's Madeline Martinez (with award) and Anna Diaz with NORML founder Keith Stroup, Esq.

    This is an expense our state cannot afford under any circumstances.  The average cost for drug testing in Oregon is $44.00 a person.  According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, there were 361,300 households (682,000 people) receiving SNAP benefits in February 2010.   The caseload is expected to increase until it peaks at 398,000 cases (760,000 people) in April 2011.  That is a 10 percent increase from February 2010.  Even if only one test were administered per household, the cost of drug testing would be roughly $17 million dollars.

    While there are several reasons to oppose this type of legislation in all four states, there is one reason that is very unique to Oregon. Oregon is the only state that has a medical marijuana program.  The problem is that the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act does not protect patients who also receive public assistance.  Should this bill pass, many of us would be ineligible for services just because we are legally using our medicine.

    The ACLU is right. Drug testing welfare recipients as a condition of eligibility is unsound on all levels for everyone, including taxpayers.  It discriminates against medical cannabis patients, is a waste of money, and will hurt single parent households, which in turn, hurts our children.

    Please send a message to the Oregon Legislature and ask them to oppose any type of drug testing legislation.  It only takes a few minutes, and you can do it right now.  Here is an example of what you can say to get you started:

    “Please oppose any legislation that incorporates drug testing as a part of the law.  Our state cannot afford the expense, and these bills discriminate against disabled medical marijuana patients.”

    57 responses to “Marijuana Testing State Services Applicants: It’s Just Wrong!”

    1. Cat Cassie says:

      Drug testing to uncover drug abuse? What do they consider abuse? Any amount wether its one joint a month or a week or a day? Its all the same to them no matter how much or how little you use? Its all abuse? Its almost laughable if wasn’t so pathetic.

    2. I agree that drug testing public assistance recipients is wrong. I do have to point out a slight error in the above article, however:

      The Oregon bill specifically exempts medical marijuana patients; a patient will NOT be prevented from benefits for using their legal marijuana under the OMMA. (And that is the ONLY thing “good” I have to say about this bill….)

      Here is the info:

      The testing is mandated here in Senate Bill 538:


      SECTION 2. { + (1) The Department of Human Services shall adopt rules that require adult applicants for and recipients of public assistance to undergo testing for substances of abuse as defined in ORS 438.010.

      So if we go to ORS 438.010, to see how this testing for substances of abuse is “defined”:


      (20) “Substances of abuse” means ethanol and controlled substances, except those used as allowed by law and as defined in ORS chapter 475 or as used in ORS 689.005.

      ORS chapter 475 includes the OMMA.

      Medical marijuana patients will NOT be denied benefits due to their use of marijuana. However, they WILL be drug tested, because they are under the DHS (OHA now) and that is one of the categories included in the definition of public assistance under Oregon law. It is presumed that they will be tested for *other* drugs…


      However, there are still plenty of reasons to call your representative and insist that they NOT support this bill. The costs alone are astronomical (without even considering the constitutional questions) – the number of people that would be required to submit to testing is easily 200,000 (and could be as high as 500,000 – although I am presuming that most of the categories with extremely large numbers are primarily children, so I went with a lower stat that is certainly all adults: the unemployed…206,000 people). Presuming that the 200,000 unemployed were subject to just TWO tests per year (the law requires every six months) – the total cost is upwards of 16 million dollars (200,000 people x $40 per test = 8 million dollars per test x 2 times per year = 16 million dollars).

      16 million dollars is bad enough. But what most won’t realize until later is that most of those unemployed are on additional programs (Oregon Health Plan, food stamps (SNAP), educational grants, JOBS program, free and reduced lunch for their children, etc). The bill is worded in such a way that a single person will almost certainly be required to take 2 tests per year PER PROGRAM. So a person on unemployment who is a participant in the JOBS program and gets food stamps would be in three programs, and would have to take 2 tests annually PER PROGRAM, for a total of 6 tests per year. Nearly everyone who is in ONE public assistance program is in OTHER programs as well. And the bill makes passing a drug test a “condition of eligibility for public assistance.” Anyone who has dealt with any sort of public assistance knows that each program qualifies you independently…

      At a time when the nation is facing massive budget shortfalls and program cuts – this hardly seems like a time to introduce such a high cost burden on the state (with the HIGH probability of constitutional litigation as well!) particularly after reviewing the results of Michigan’s failed attempt at implementing such a program (only 10% of public assistance recipients in Michigan tested positive, and only 3% tested positive for “hard drugs” like cocaine and meth)

      I wrote two articles on this in mid January addressing my perspective – because this particular issue REALLY bothers me:

      This one addresses the more “legal” aspects:

      And this one addresses the more personal/human aspects:

    3. Johny Ryal says:

      “I’m not in favor of this drug testing crap for ANYONE, except what is between a patient and a doctor, but if this is unconsitituional for people living off the taxes of those that work, why the hell isn’t drug testing workers unconstituional?!?”

      Thats how I feel.

    4. A nationwide attack upon POOR cannabis users is underway by prohibitionists.http://medpot.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=94103 The country bails out billionaire bankers making a million dollars a year bonuses without a single drug test given. I mean, what the hell! More and more EMPLOYED people are required to have drug tests too. Drug tests are nothing more than targetted slavery by a certain class of prohibitionists against everyone else. The CONSTITUTION does not require a drug test to be a citizen, and a citizen should not be required to “pass” a drug test to receive government services. ENOUGH!!!

    5. Obligatory drug tests are a violation of your US CONSTITUTION, AMEND. IV right to be free of warrantless searches without probable cause. Getting welfare is NOT probable cause for a drug test. Nothing is!!!!

    6. Lynnzy says:

      I think it should be unconstitutional for anyone to be drug tested for a job or anything else besides parole or probation. It DOES subject people to unreasonable search without a cause. Pre-employment screening needs to be done away with and then people who are getting screened before they get a job will not be bitching that they have to be screened but the welfare recipients don’t. That’s how all this got started was from people who have job bitching about having to have a drug screening and for a job. All of it should be done away with. The other thing is to make it a law that they can not screen for cannabis in any way shape or form. Just take the cannabis out. Something has to be done because I don’t have the rest of my life to be going at this like this. Within’ five years these laws have to change. It’s getting really f-ing old now.

    7. Bob Constantine says:

      Aren’t all government workers also on “public assistance”?

      Where does the money to pay for those who arrest, prosecutee and jail us come from?

      Is THAT money voluntarily given or is it taken?

      Think about it.

    8. Igor says:

      Response to #13:

      The threat of a Urinalysis test means that welfare recipients seeking inebriation will turn to alcohol instead of safer, non-toxic and non-addictive cannabis, because alcohol is only detectable for about 24 hours. Other substances that a welfare recipient might choose in order to elude a urinalysis test, instead of easily detected cannabis, include crystal meth and crack.

      However, the danger of making such an argument is that the other side will respond, “We need a better test,” and then they will want to spend millions of taxpayer dollars devising a better test, which will be even more expensive to administer.

      I think the point of opposing urinalysis is that in the first place, cannabis is not destructive, but can be therapeutic. In the second place, asking someone to urinate in a cup, possibly even under direct supervision, is an invasion of privacy.

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