How to Talk to A Conservative about … Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

by Courtney C Horne @FireezDragon

I am starting a new series of posts for my blog called “How to Talk to a Conservative.” Each one will feature my approach to talking to a conservative about a specific issue. Some of this draws from real life conversations I have had and some of it is merely a theoretical approach. All in all these posts are about how to frame issues in ways that will connect to your conservative family, friends and coworkers. Hopefully without starting any yelling matches, though I place no guarantees.

More and more states are starting to drug test people who receive certain types of government assistance. My view on those programs is that they are chiefly motivated by the lobbying of the drug testing companies who are looking for a lot of new revenue and have very little to do with public good. I also look at them and see a gross degradation of our expectations of privacy. The programs are in the news a lot and have lead to some pretty in depth discussions for me. I find this is one I end up addressing with both conservatives and a small number of progressives however I will be focusing on the approach I take with the more conservative audience.

First, talk about money. Point out that drug testing costs the state a lot of money and that there would have to be a tremendous amount of people failing the tests for it to make sense financially. Point out that in Florida it has already been shown to be bad for the state’s budget. Cost effectiveness can seem like a callous argument to make but if you are talking with someone who professes balanced budgets and cut expenses to be one of their ideals it is always worth while to point out when a plan fails to do those things.

Next talk about how to define government assistance. Talk about where to draw the line. Should this apply to all the elderly receiving social security benefits. What if a state has medical marijuana laws, an elderly lady has cancer, fails a drug test due to medical marijuana  do we take her social security check and medicare away? It’s not just the elderly to ask about either. Ask the obvious question about politicians. They get paid by the government do they have to pee in a cup? This is a really expansive area for discussion. There are a ton of types of government programs, FHA loans, Student loans, unemployment, social security, disability, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, WIC, the list goes on and on. Which of these merit a mandatory drug test and which don’t? What about people who work for the government? What about people at companies that handle government contracts? What about everyone who works for a company that gets a government bail out? Where is the line drawn and how does one justify the point at which it is drawn? If an expansive line is drawn, how do we pay for all those drug tests? If a narrow line is drawn what about those people means the money they get from the government has less strings than the money AIG got?

Erosion of privacy comes next and here I like to talk about the Patriot Act. I like to talk about the creeping expectation of monitoring and how it is detrimental to a free society. I like to talk about how drug testing welfare recipients is a perfect example of a creeping decay of privacy expectations in its infancy. If we can drug test one group of people without any specific cause, what will stop it from becoming standard for everyone. How do we have any freedom from unreasonable search if we can be forced without a warrant to turn over our bodily fluids? Does this signal a future with no medical privacy? “Well if you have nothing to hide” has never seemed a satisfactory answer to questions like this to me. Any erosion of our expectation of privacy can lead to more, these sorts of things are like dominoes and drug testing all welfare recipients regardless of any suspicion or lack thereof knocks over one giant domino.

I also like to ask whether other “wastes of money” should be evaluated for welfare recipients. Do we want to test people for alcohol and nicotine as well? What about watching to see if they ever attend a movie? Gambling? There are a lot of legal activities that cost way more than the occasional joint. And joints is really what this is about, marijuana has one of the longest viable test times of any drug and is by far the most prevalent. It is important to point out that this isn’t just about crack or meth or oxys. This is largely about pot.

Lastly is the appeal to humanism. This appeal I find to be far more effective than the others when I am speaking to a progressive who disagrees with me on this topic. Should we really take food stamps away from a kid because mommy smoked a joint with some friends at a party? A joint mommy may not have even paid for. A joint that didn’t effect mommy’s minimum wage job that doesn’t pay enough to feed her kids one bit. What about if mommy has only one ride to work and the car is full of pot smoke and mommy tests positive because of that? Would it be better if she lost her job because she had no other ride? Inevitably people suggest we should take the kid away at that point. That’s where you talk about the underfunded and often poorly ran foster system and ask if it is worth traumatizing a kid and possibly damaging them for life just because mom hit a joint to try and escape her miserable poor minimum wage life for just a few moments.

It’s an engaging topic and there are more points to be made but this is my main approach to addressing it when someone expresses to me that they are supportive of drug testing programs for people who receive government aid.

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