On April 15, 1997, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down a Georgia law that required all politicians to be drug tested before being allowed on the ballot, ruling the law unconstitutional while citing the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches.
In a 2013 poll, 78% of those surveyed responded that they were in favor of random drug testing for members of Congress. They overwhelmingly agreed with the idea that if people receiving assistance from the government should be drug tested, then the people running the government should be drug tested, as well.
You can find petitions to drug test congress online. Even Facebook has a Mandatory Drug Tests For Politicians page that includes links to articles and videos in support of drug testing our country’s legislators, along with various reasons why politicians should have mandatory drug testing—including “because they decide how to spend our taxes,” “because sometimes they act like they’re on crack,” and “because they make way more money than people on welfare.”
The Welfare Drug Testing Backlash
In 2011, Republican lawmakers in more than 30 states as well as Congress introduced dozens of bills that would mandate drug testing of welfare recipients in an effort to get drug users off the dole and reduce spending on benefits. In response to these efforts, Democratic lawmakers in numerous states decided to introduce their own bills that required politicians to undergo the same testing.
In one such instance, House Bill 1007 of the Indiana General Assembly proposed to develop and establish a pilot program that would test for the use of controlled substances by individuals who received welfare assistance. The Republican member of the General Assembly who sponsored the bill withdrew it after one of his Democratic colleagues amended the measure to require drug testing for lawmakers.
Meanwhile in Florida, in what could be considered both political irony and political karma, a Republican Congressman who voted for legislation that would allow states to make food stamp recipients take drug tests was arrested for buying cocaine from a federal agent. Oops.
Drugs and Decision-Making
When it comes to cocaine, a 2015 study conducted at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee found a direct correlation between cocaine use and the impairment of memory and decision-making skills, especially when high levels of reasoning are required. Another study at UCSF’s Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center found that cocaine may rewire the brain and drastically affect decision-making after just a single use.
At The University of Maryland School of Medicine, substance abuse researchers found that an area of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for decisions made on the spur of the moment. According to the researches, the distinction is critical to understanding the neurobiology of decision-making, particularly with regard to substance abuse. Cocaine in particular appeared to have long-lasting effects on the orbitofrontal cortex.
“Our research showed that damage to the orbitofrontal cortex may decrease a person’s ability to use prior experience to make good decisions on the fly,” said lead author Joshua Jones, Ph.D.
In addition to the studies on cocaine, marijuana use has also been shown to adversely impact memory, cognition, and decision-making skills, which is especially true in the case of chronic marijuana use.
The Cost of Drug Testing
If all 535 members of Congress (435 representatives and 100 senators) were randomly drug tested once a year at an average cost of $40 per test, the total would be $21,400. Compare that to the more than $850,000 spent in 2015 by states on drug testing welfare recipients, with across-the-board returns that were significantly less than what was spent.
Considering that politicians are tasked with making important decisions on behalf of their constituents, the idea that drug use could adversely affect their job performance isn’t without merit. However, there remains the Supreme Court ruling that drug testing politicians is unconstitutional, violating their Fourth Amendment rights.
In today’s world of random drug testing, employees who drive forklifts, collect garbage, carry firearms, bag groceries, sell insurance, install alarm systems, and perform countless other jobs on a daily basis have to take drug tests in order to get and keep their jobs. So maybe it’s not out of the question to expect the leaders of the country to do the same?