Across the country, Republican governors are pushing policies that mandate drug-testing for all welfare recipients and marginalize low-income Americans in the process. Now, the latest GOP presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich is trying that idea on the national stage. When asked by Yahoo News’ Chris Moody for his thoughts on how to reform the U.S.’s failed war on drugs, Gingrich declared that “we need to consider taking more explicit steps to make it expensive to be a drug user.” His first and foremost step? Drug test Americans “before you get any kind of federal aid“:
[MOODY:] Speaking of Ron Paul, at the last debate, he said that the war on drugs has been an utter failure. We’ve spent billions of dollars since President Nixon and we still have rising levels of drug use. Should we continue down the same path given the amount of money we’ve spent? How can we reform our approach?
[GINGRICH:] I think that we need to consider taking more explicit steps to make it expensive to be a drug user. It could be through testing before you get any kind of federal aid. Unemployment compensation, food stamps, you name it.
It has always struck me that if you’re serious about trying to stop drug use, then you need to find a way to have a fairly easy approach to it and you need to find a way to be pretty aggressive about insisting–I don’t think actually locking up users is a very good thing. I think finding ways to sanction them and to give them medical help and to get them to detox is a more logical long-term policy.
Gingrich’s first step would likely run headlong into the Constitution. As UCLA Professor Adam Winkler noted, random drug testing is a “suspicion-less search” and “the Supreme Court has upheld the ability of government to mandate random drug tests in a few limited circumstances,” most often in “high-risk public safety environments.” In fact, courts have struck down such policies again and again.
The fact that Gingrich’s first thought regarding drug users points to federal aid recipients should not be surprising given his low opinion of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet. He once insisted that an unemployed mechanic receiving jobless benefits was made lazy by that “welfare.” Nearly one-third of America’s 14 million unemployed have been unable to find work for a year or more. And yet, to Gingrich, “it is fundamentally wrong” to give these people jobless aid “for doing nothing.” Unless, of course, we drug test them first.