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Drug testing for benefits found unconstitutional

By many measures, the so-called war on drugs has been a colossal failure. From its significant increase in the numbers of people incarcerated to the degradation of constitutional civil liberties, to the effect on the militarization of the police throughout the nation, it is hard to examine any aspect of the "war" and conclude it in any way has resulted in an increase to public safety.

And we have made it more difficult for these individuals, once they have completed their sentences for their drug charges, to reenter society, get a job and escape the return to the criminal justice system. 

One program that offers assistance to those with limited resources is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The program provides benefits that allow beneficiaries to achieve self-sufficiency.

However, some believe these individuals are using their benefits to purchase drugs. They advocate drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. Some states, like Florida enacted such a law.

Applicants sued, claiming the requirement was unconstitutional and this month, a federal appeals court ruled they are correct, and that the law violates the Fourth Amendment.

The court found such searches intrusive and unreasonable. They also noted that they are pointless, as the statistics suggest that TANF recipients have a lower rate of drug usage than the general population.

In many ways, these types of initiatives often seem as "solutions in search of a problem," and motivated by an urge to frame the debate and ultimately undercut or dismantle these very necessary social safety net programs.

Public safety is enhanced when people secure jobs and homes, earn a living and avoid re-incarceration and an endless treadmill through the criminal justice system.

Iowastatedaily.com, "Woods: Make drug testing mandatory for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program," Zoe Woods, December 12, 2014

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