Clinton White House Considered Drug Testing Student-Loan Applicants

It was a lifetime ago where drug policy is concerned, but the Clinton administration wasn’t ahead of its time when it came to asking kids to pee in cups.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
April 23, 2014, 11:17 a.m.

It didn’t make it in­to the flurry of news cov­er­age on Fri­day, but when the latest batch of in­tern­al doc­u­ments was re­leased from the Clin­ton White House, a par­tic­u­larly curi­ous line of poll ques­tion­ing stood out.

In 1998, the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion poll tested the idea of mak­ing col­lege stu­dents pee in cups to prove they’re not on drugs in or­der to qual­i­fy for fin­an­cial aid, ac­cord­ing to pa­pers re­leased by the Clin­ton Lib­rary.

While the col­lect-stu­dent-pee idea was nev­er im­ple­men­ted, Clin­ton did sign the High­er Edu­ca­tion Act reau­thor­iz­a­tion in­to law in 1998. The le­gis­la­tion in­cluded a meas­ure strip­ping aid from more than 200,000 stu­dents con­victed for drug of­fenses, something drug re­formers have come to refer to as the “smoke a joint, lose your fed­er­al aid” pro­vi­sion. The pro­vi­sion has since been scaled back, though nev­er fully re­pealed.

Back then, a full 75 per­cent of people sup­por­ted re­quir­ing ap­plic­ants to pass a drug test in or­der to re­ceive stu­dent loans, and 80 per­cent sup­por­ted lim­it­ing the eli­gib­il­ity of ap­plic­ants for fed­er­al stu­dent loans should they ac­tu­ally test pos­it­ive, ac­cord­ing to the polling res­ults cited by the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion. Be­low is the rel­ev­ant sec­tion from Fri­day’s re­lease:

It might as well have been a life­time ago where drug policy is con­cerned.

In 1998 med­ic­al marijuana was only leg­al in a hand­ful of states (today it’s avail­able in 21). The ra­cially loaded dis­par­ity in sen­tences for users of crack and users of powdered co­caine was still 100-1. And Stu­dents for Sens­ible Drug Policy, an or­gan­iz­a­tion formed to op­pose policies such the ones polled above, didn’t even ex­ist yet.

“Leg­al­iz­a­tion was barely a top­ic for de­bate, much less the main­stream, ma­jor­ity-sup­por­ted is­sue it is today,” said Tom An­gell, who spent sev­er­al years on staff at SS­DP be­fore go­ing to work for an­oth­er pro-re­form group, Marijuana Ma­jor­ity. “If you polled this ques­tion in 2014 I’m con­fid­ent you’d see dra­mat­ic­ally less sup­port for this dra­coni­an policy than the Clin­ton White House found in 1998.”

Per­haps the most rel­ev­ant de­bate today re­volves around re­quir­ing food-stamp re­cip­i­ents to take drug tests — and the pub­lic has evolved there less than you might think. The House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives re­cently passed le­gis­la­tion that would al­low states to re­quire food-stamp re­cip­i­ents get drug tested, and a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans (64 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Huff­ing­ton Post/YouGov poll) still like the idea of drug test­ing for wel­fare re­cip­i­ents, a more stig­mat­ized pop­u­la­tion than col­lege ap­plic­ants.

But if there’s one pop­u­la­tion Amer­ic­ans most like to see forced to pee in cups, it ap­pears that it would be Con­gress. Too bad the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion didn’t think of polling that.

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