Michigan’s attempt to impose mandatory drug tests on all welfare recipients has finally come to an end, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today after a settlement was reached with the Family Independence Agency (FIA). The FIA can now require drug testing of welfare recipients only where there is a reasonable suspicion that the recipient is using drugs.
“We’re very pleased that State the now recognizes that being poor is not a crime,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the Michigan ACLU and an attorney in the case. “Low-income parents can be assured that they won’t have to choose between providing for their children and relinquishing their privacy rights.”
The settlement ends a seven year battle that began in the Michigan Legislature in 1997. The ACLU filed the class-action lawsuit in September 1999 on behalf of all Michigan welfare recipients who would be denied income support and other benefits for other children if they refused to submit to random drug testing or failed to comply with a mandatory "substance abuse treatment plan."
“This settlement should send a message to the rest of the nation that drug testing programs like these are neither an appropriate nor effective use of a state’s limited resources,” said Graham Boyd, director of the National ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project, who argued the case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
In April 2000, U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law. She wrote that drug testing an entire class of citizens simply because they are poor “would be dangerously at odds with the tenets of our democracy.” In April 2003, appeals court affirmed that decision.
Before the ACLU filed its lawsuit, Michigan was the only state in the country that required all welfare applicants to submit to drug testing without suspicion of drug use.
In the five weeks that the program was in effect, the drug tests were positive in only 8 percent of the cases, a percentage that is consistent with drug use in the general population. Of 268 people tested, only 21 tested positive for drugs and all but 3 were for marijuana.
In addition to Moss and Boyd, other attorneys who litigated the case for the ACLU were Robert Sedler, Cameron Getto, David Getto and Michael J. Steinberg.