Opinion: Georgia drug law, similar enactments, unfair to poor

Commentators from the American Civil Liberties Union have taken aim at what they call “insidious interests” underlying legislation that has arisen in many states — including, centrally, Georgia — targeting poor and needy families in a selective manner exempting other groups.

What the ACLU and other advocacy groups view with disdain and growing concern are laws like what they call Georgia’s “charmingly named” Social Responsibility and Accountability Act passed last year. That law requires that applicants seeking help under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program submit to drug testing even in the absence of probable cause in order to obtain benefits.

The ACLU states that the underlying premise of that requirement is that particularly needy people in the United States need to be singled out vis a vis other groups that receive government benefits. The requirement implies that the poor and needy are more susceptible of drug use and will use benefit money to buy marijuana, methamphetamine and other drugs, or perhaps use the money to engage in drug distribution or drug trafficking.

ACLU attorneys find that reasoning to be specious and insulting. Their view was seconded in an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from 2011 that struck down a Florida law similar to Georgia’s enactment. The judge writing in that decision stated that there is no evidence “that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use.”

Such state enactments perpetuate stereotypes, say critics, infringe on privacy interests and imply that the rights of the poor and unemployed “are worth less than those of the gainfully employed.”

Moreover, they are enriching drug-testing firms, which have cropped up given such enactments and are lobbying legislators for ever-more testing.

All such laws need to be repealed, says the ACLU. Their advent manifests a “disturbing reality built on the back of American’s poor.”

Source: American Civil Liberties Union, “As the “drug testing dragnet” widens, the poor continue to be swept in,” Jason Williamson and Rebecca McCray, April 10, 2013