The Opportunity Cost of Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

In every state there are two populations of people whom a government might decide to subject to drug testing. One population, welfare recipients, haven’t done anything wrong and have a low rate of drug use. The other population, felony probationers, have done something wrong and have a high rate of drug use. Further, while there is no evidence that drug testing welfare recipients protects the public in any significant way, regular testing of felony probationers coupled with modest sanctions reduces crime, including violent crime. Despite that, probation systems often lack the resources for consistent drug testing.

Given those realities, the continued interest of state legislators and governors in allocating scarce resources for drug testing to welfare recipients rather than felony probationers is as ill-advised as it is disappointing.