Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich thinks the federal government should make it more expensive to be a drug user.
"It could be through testing before you get any kind of federal aid," Gingrich told Yahoo's Chris Moody in an interview on Saturday. "Unemployment compensation, food stamps, you name it."
Newt's suggestion is a popular one lately. Republicans in several states this year proposed drug testing the poor and jobless as a way for the government to save money on programs like welfare and unemployment insurance. Only Florida actually followed through and enacted a new requirement, which has been blocked by a federal court.
Gingrich suggested denying benefits to drug users would be a better way to prosecute the drug war than just locking people up. He also disavowed an earlier proposal to legalize pot for medical purposes.
"It has always struck me that if you're serious about trying to stop drug use, then you need to find a way to have a fairly easy approach to it and you need to find a way to be pretty aggressive about insisting -- I don't think actually locking up users is a very good thing," he said. "I think finding ways to sanction them and to give them medical help and to get them to detox is a more logical long-term policy."
From July to October, Florida required welfare applicants to submit to urine testing to prove they were not using drugs. The policy lasted only four months because a federal judge stopped it with an injunction, finding the 35-year-old single father who claimed the test violated his constitutional rights would be substantially likely to win his case. Courts found the same policy unconstitutional when Michigan tried it in 1999.
The judge also blasted the state's fiscal rationale for the policy, saying the government "has not demonstrated any financial benefit or net savings will accrue as a result" of the law. Just 2.5 percent of applicants have tested positive for drugs -- a lower rate of usage than in the general population. Since the state requires applicants to pay for their own tests but reimburses people who pass, the scheme could be a money-loser.
Even so, Gov. Rick Scott (R) has appealed the judge's ruling in what the local ACLU calls "a legal crusade defending a campaign pledge to create an unconstitutional, big-government program that is itself a waste of money."
According to worker advocacy group the National Employment Law Project, lawmakers in a dozen states proposed drug testing the jobless this year. None of those proposals has become law, though Indiana and Wisconsin now deny jobless benefits to anyone who flunks a potential employer's drug test.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said this year she wanted to drug test the jobless because she'd heard hundreds of job applicants failed a local employer's test. When the claim proved utterly false, Haley did not withdraw her support for the policy.
Arthur Delaney is the author of "A People's History of the Great Recession," HuffPost's first e-book.