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Why Not End Both Programs?


Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, wants to make Wisconsin the first state to mandate drug testing for able-bodied adults who apply for food stamps. Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature approved the idea more than two years ago, but nothing came of it because of concerns about its constitutionality and its conflict with federal rules that prohibit states from imposing additional eligibility criteria on food stamp recipients.

In 2015, Walker filed a federal lawsuit “seeking approval to test food stamp applicants, but it was rejected because then-President Barack Obama’s administration had not yet formally rejected the state’s request to do the testing.” In 2016, Walker asked that Donald Trump’s administration “make clear that drug screening is permissible,” but since no reply was ever given, Walker decided to move ahead with his plan by approving “a rule change to implement the screening” and sending it to the legislature for review. The legislature has four months to review the rule. Drug testing could begin a year after the rule’s approval; that is, if the federal government or lawsuits by opponents of the plan don’t block or delay the testing.

Walker touts drug testing “as a way to put more drug-free workers into the workplace.” Under his plan, childless FoodShare (Wisconsin’s name for food stamps) participants “who fail a drug test would be eligible for state-funded rehabilitation treatment if they don’t have any other way to pay for it.” The Walker administration estimates that about 0.3 percent of the 67,400 applicants a year would actually test positive for drugs. Opponents of Walker’s plan, such as Jon Peacock, research director for Kids Forward, which advocates policies and public expenditures to benefit children and families in Wisconsin, maintain that “the state could do far more to expand the workforce by investing in broader access to effective drug treatment programs, rather than spending scarce state resources on the administration of drug screening and testing requirements.”

I have a better idea than Walker or Peacock.

Why not end both programs? Why not end the government’s war on drugs and the government’s food stamp program?

Although a majority of states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, many states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and some states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government has the authority to prohibit marijuana possession and use for any and all purposes.

But that is just marijuana. No state has decriminalized the possession of other drugs or legalized their use for any purpose. The war on drugs is in full force, on both the federal and state levels. According to the most recent FBI crime data, there were 1,572,579 drug arrests in the United States last year, with 653,249 of those arrests being for marijuana. There is hardly a job in the United States that one can apply for without having to take a drug test.

The federal food stamp program (officially called SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but is operated by the 50 states. According to the annual summary published by the FNS, during fiscal year 2017, there were 42,182,443 Americans in 20,886,012 households receiving an average monthly SNAP benefit of $125.05 per person, or $252.55 per household, at a total cost to taxpayers of $58,022,853,442. Yes, that is $58 billion.

There is no limit as to how long one can receive food stamps as long as there are children in the household, subject to renewal every six months. Childless adults can receive benefits for three months in three years. After that, they must work at least 80 hours per month or participate in an education or job training program for that amount of time. States can temporarily waive the three-month time limit when unemployment rates rise.

Recipients of SNAP benefits receive a deposit on an EBT card each month that can be used only for prepackaged food items. But according to an FNS report titled Foods Typically Purchased by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Households, soft drinks were the top commodity bought by food stamp recipients. In fact, $100 billion more was spent on soft drinks than on milk and $150 billion more was spent on soft drinks than on meat. “Junk food” spending accounted for more than 14 percent of the total of food expenditures made by SNAP recipients.

The Constitution is supposed to be the foundation of American government. The federal government is not supposed to have the authority to do anything unless it is included in the limited, enumerated powers granted to it in the Constitution. Yet, there is nothing in the Constitution that gives the federal government the authority to have a war on drugs, a Controlled Substances Act, a Drug Enforcement Agency, a National Drug Control Strategy, a drug czar, or an Office of National Drug Control Policy. There is nothing in the Constitution that gives the federal government the authority to have a Department of Agriculture, a Food and Nutrition Service, or a food stamp program. In fact, there is nothing in the Constitution that authorizes the federal government to have anything to do with drugs or food. If there is to be a war on drugs or a food stamp program, they must be instituted and funded on the state level (not that that would be a good thing, either).

In a free society, all drugs — not just marijuana — would be legal. That doesn’t necessarily mean there would be no drug tests, just that there would be no government drug tests. Private employers, business establishments, and property owners would still have the right to prohibit all drugs or certain drugs from being possessed or consumed by employees, customers, or visitors. That might include scheduled or random drug testing as a condition of employment, doing business, or visiting. But without a government war on drugs, I suspect that most drug testing would be a thing of the past.

In a free society, all food assistance provided would be private and voluntary. It is not the purpose of government to provide charity or a safety net — even when it comes to food. It is, in fact, a perversion of government to do so. The food stamp program is not only unconstitutional and illegitimate, it is immoral as well. Redistributing wealth from one American to another — even if it takes the form of something essential like food — is immoral. Conservative critics of the food stamp program — including Governor Walker — always focus on the program’s growth, benefits, work requirements, eligibility rules, waste, inefficiency, and fraud, but never on its constitutionality, legitimacy, or morality.

Two important steps toward a free society are ending the war on drugs and the food stamp program.

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