Canadian Social Research Links

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients in
Ontario / Canada / U.S.

Updated September 3, 2017

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Drug testing coming to Canadian welfare programs?

Should Welfare Recipients be Drug Tested to Receive Benefits? - DEAD LINK
June 8, 2012
(...) The whole “if I have to be drug tested, then so should they” argument really sounds like when grandparents pull the “when I was your age” speech. “When I was your age, we had to walk to school 80 miles, uphill both ways, through 16 feet of snow, and take turns wearing the shoes because there was only one pair between the five of us.” I call bullshit. Maybe this isn’t about your resentment for the drug-test you claim you had to take. Maybe this is a judgement on those less fortunate.
The Maple Tree: Canadian Druidry - DEAD LINK
By Caroline and Shawna, two practicing Druids living in urban Southwestern Ontario


Mandatory Drug Testing and Treatment of Welfare Recipients Position Statement
(Undated) The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) does not support mandatory drug testing and treatment for people on welfare. Research has shown that drug testing has limited utility in confirming substance use problems and treatment needs. Such an approach would also serve to perpetuate the stigma associated with poverty and addiction and may lead to detrimental individual and social consequences. CAMH is also concerned about the ethical and legal implications of that infringement on the human rights of its patients and clients who are on welfare.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Déja vu, all over again.
Does anyone from Ontario still remember ten years ago (1995 or so), when the Harris Tories held a province-wide consultation regarding mandatory drug testing for welfare applicants? In January 2001, Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services John Baird (why does that name ring a bell?) stated: "Our government believes we must provide drug treatment, and it must be mandatory". The consultation wasn't about whether or not drug testing would happen - it had been part of the Tory platform in the 1999 election campaign. Baird moved on to another portfolio, the drug testing trial balloon didn't go any further and the Liberals won the 2003 provincial election.

Below, you can read a few of the submissions that the Ontario Government received in the course of the 2001 consultation.

Consultation on Mandatory
Drug Treatment for Welfare Recipients
(PDF - 40K, 5 pages) - - DEAD LINK
February 6, 2001
Brief Submitted (to the Ontario Government)
by The Medical Reform Group of Ontario
During the 1999 election campaign, the Progressive Conservative Party's "Blueprint" document outlined a plan to test all welfare recipients in Ontario for drug use, based on an argument that drug use among welfare recipients constitutes a barrier to obtaining and maintaining employment. On November 14th 2000, John Baird, Minister of Community and Social Services, announced that the government of Ontario was seeking consultations regarding its plan to mandate drug testing of welfare recipients. The Medical Reform Group of Ontario is responding to the invitation for consultations.

In addition to being in contravention to the Ontario Human Rights Code which considers addiction as a disability, mandatory testing and treatment of welfare recipients violates their constitutional rights, encourages base stereotypes, is of unproven efficacy, is unlikely to be more effective than voluntary testing, may be harmful, and will likely be a wasteful expenditure of public moneys.

The Medical Reform Group of Ontario
The Medical Reform Group of Ontario is a group of 200 practising physicians and medical students.


Science misapplied: mandatory addiction screening
and treatment for welfare recipients in Ontario
(PDF - 167K, 2 pages) - DEAD LINK
August 2001
The Ontario government plans to refer welfare recipients for a compulsory “professional, comprehensive assessment” and to demand that some recipients attend outpatient programs for mandatory treatment as a condition of receiving benefits. Both diagnosis and treatment will require the involvement of physicians and both could occur under duress and coercion. Physicians, guided by professional ethics, will need to determine whether their allegiance is to the state or to the individual patient. The Board of Trustees of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has publicly opposed mandatory drug testing and treatment. Medical associations and professional regulatory bodies should follow its example and take a public stand against the Ontario government’s plan to force welfare recipients to undergo screening, assessment and treatment for addiction.
Canadian Medical Association


More information on this initiative - this link takes you to a Google Search Results page with several relevant resources.

Coming soon to a
social assistance program near you?

United States

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE)

ASPE Issue Brief:
Drug testing welfare recipients : Recent proposals and continuing controversies
October 2011
HTML version:
PDF version (28 pages):

This ASPE Issue Brief examines recent State and federal legislative proposals to require drug tests as a condition of TANF program eligibility. During 2010 and the first half of 2011, 82 bills on this subject were proposed in 31 State legislatures and the U.S. Congress. This brief, which was prepared by Laura Radel, Kristen Joyce, and Carli Wulff of ASPEs Office of Human Services Policy, describes potential uses and limitations of drug tests in the context of welfare programs.

Tennessee’s First Year Of Drug Testing Welfare Applicants Didn’t Go Very Well - - DEAD LINK
By Alan Pyke
October 7, 2015

Tennessee’s first year of drug testing welfare recipients uncovered drug use by less than 0.2 percent of all applicants for the state’s public assistance system.
Seven states that drug test welfare recipients have now spent about $1 million on the tests, according to previous ThinkProgress research. Each state has found drug usage rates among welfare applicants to be far below the national average of 9.4 percent for all Americans.


ThinkProgress is a project of the
Center for American Progress Action Fund:


Why the Conversation Over Drug Testing Welfare Applicants Continues
July 30, 2015
By Amanda Ota
WASHINGTON — “Most working people are drug tested to begin a job, it’s only right welfare recipients be tested too,” a petition
[ ] on the top of Thursday’s list of ‘popular’ petitions reads. The petition urged State Senators Capri Cafaro and Cliff Hite to approve drug testing on Ohio food stamp and public assistance applicants.
A study conducted in 1996 by the National Institute on Health Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [ ] backs O’Brien’s point. The study concluded in 1996 found that: “proportions of welfare recipients using, abusing, or dependent on alcohol or illicit drugs are consistent with proportions of both the adult U.S. population and adults who do not receive welfare.”



Results Of Arizona Welfare Recipient Drug Testing : 1 Out Of The 87,000 Tested Was Positive
By Gregory Krieg
July 29, 2015
An examination of Arizona's experiment reveals a flawed policy that has failed to accomplish its stated goal of saving the state money, and has instead done little more than further stigmatize poverty and marginalize the poor.
According to USA Today, more than 87,000 welfare recipients [ ] went through Arizona’s program in the three years after it began. The total number of drug cheats caught was exactly one — a single positive result, which saved the state precisely $560.
Checking in again in March, the Arizona Sonora News Service cited state Department of Economic Security figures which found that over the course of more than five years, “42 people have been asked to take a follow-up drug test and 19 actually took the test, 16 of whom passed. The other 23 were stripped of their benefits for failing to take the drug test.”

That adds up to a grand total of three failed tests from 2009-2014.


Some States Still Pushing Drug Testing for Welfare
March 6, 2014
By Jake Grovum
From written tests designed to flag drug users to singling out people with recent drug convictions, state lawmakers across the country are pursuing novel strategies to deny welfare benefits to drug users without running afoul of a recent federal court ruling. In December, a federal judge in Florida struck down the state’s drug-test requirement. But almost half the states are considering drug-testing bills designed to withstand legal scrutiny.

Stateliner is the daily news service of
The PEW Charitable Trusts
At The Pew Charitable Trusts, we develop policy solutions that make government more effective and deliver results for states and the public good.


Federal judge rules drug testing welfare recipients unconstitutional; state will appeal
By Matt Dixon
December 31, 2013
TALLAHASSEE | A federal judge Tuesday ruled a 2011 law that requires those seeking welfare benefits to take a drug test is "unconstitutional", a decision Gov. Rick Scott immediately said the state would appeal.


Drug Tests Falter as Way for States to Deny Public Aid
By Steven Yaccino
October 25, 2013
With safety-net spending under review around the country, proposals to make welfare and unemployment checks contingent on drug testing have become a routine rallying cry in dozens of states. But the impact of drug-testing measures has been limited. Supporters say the tests are needed to protect welfare and unemployment compensation funds as the nation emerges from the recession. But their enactment has often been hampered by legal challenges and the expense of running the programs, which generally uncover relatively few drug users.
This year, at least 29 states considered drug testing for people who receive cash assistance from the primary federal welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but only two measures passed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
New York Times


Legislators continue to propose drug testing for welfare recipients
Questions remain concerning constitutionality <=== DEAD LINK
By Tim Grimes
May 5, 2012
Lawmakers in Indiana and across the nation are studying whether to require drug tests of welfare and food stamp recipients, even though there are questions about the constitutionality of the move.
Evansville Courier and Press


[U.S.] Drug Testing Welfare Recipients:
Recent Proposals and Continuing Controversies
October 2011
This paper discusses the prevalence of substance abuse among TANF recipients, how States typically address substance abuse in their welfare programs, the variety of drug testing proposals now under discussion in States, and legal and practical issues raised by drug testing proposals.
Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


[U.S.] Punishing Poverty
October 31, 2011
Being poor and needing public assistance is not a crime. Yet some states and cities, including New York City, are gratuitously inflicting punitive measures on people who seek government help. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida signed a new law in May that requires all applicants for the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to submit a urine sample and pass a drug test. Last week, a federal judge in Orlando temporarily enjoined enforcement of that intrusive policy on grounds it violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches.
New York Times


States Adding Drug Test as Hurdle for Welfare
By A. G. Sulzberger
October 10, 2011
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As more Americans turn to government programs for refuge from a merciless economy, a growing number are encountering a new price of admission to the social safety net: a urine sample. Policy makers in three dozen states this year proposed drug testing for people receiving benefits like welfare, unemployment assistance, job training, food stamps and public housing. Such laws, which proponents say ensure that tax dollars are not being misused and critics say reinforce stereotypes about the poor, have passed in states including Arizona, Indiana and Missouri.
New York Times




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