Marijuana users could soon find it more difficult than ever to qualify for unemployment benefits.
Earlier this week, Congress approved a measure that would repeal an old Obama administration rule preventing states from denying unemployment benefits because of a failed drug screen. If President Trump signs the bill, which is expected, states could start refusing this money to people who use medical and recreational marijuana.
The proposal, passed by the Senate on Tuesday, eliminates a Labor Department directive that restricts how states test unemployment benefit applicants for drugs. Former President Obama had made it to where a state could only test people if they were seeking a position that made drug testing a prerequisite of employment, but the updated policy (pending Trump’s signature, of course) would give states the legal authority to test all applicants.
Although marijuana is legal in over half the nation, the federal government still considers the herb one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. Therefore, any state wishing to prevent cannabis consumers from claiming unemployment benefits could do so under the language of this resolution.
It’s a move that many civil rights and labor organizations say teeters on unconstitutional.
“Government-mandated drug testing not based on individualized suspicion is unconstitutional,” reads a letter signed by 50 organizations that oppose the measure. “Drug tests historically have been considered searches for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. For searches to be reasonable, they generally must be based on individualized suspicion unless the government can show a special need warranting a deviation from the norm.”
However, Republican lawmakers somehow believe that rolling back Obama’s “soft” approach to testing unemployment insurance applicants for drugs is the right move. But Democrats can see it for what it really is – just another way perpetuate the downtrodden plight of the American poor.
Drug policy reformers agree with the latter.
“For years, a small handful of Republicans in Congress have pushed this deceptive agenda and have got Republican leadership to buy in,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s shameful to see Republicans who have provided so much leadership recently on the opioid crisis now pushing drug testing schemes that provide no treatment and only serve to stigmatize and punish people who have lost their jobs.”