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
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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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