The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, as amended in 1990, requires public housing authorities to include lease provisions providing that drug-related activity on or near the premises is cause for termination of the lease, even in the absence of arrest or conviction for a drug offense, and also made lease holders subject to forfeiture for drug-related activity. In 1997, the Department of Housing and Urban Development promulgated a “one-strike” regulation empowering public housing authorities to terminate a resident’s tenancy for “any drug-related activity on or near the premises,” including activity by “a tenant, any member of the household, a guest or another person under the tenant’s control.” Application of this policy to persons other than tenants, including guests or adult children who do not live in the covered housing, and eviction of entire households because of a violation by one of its members, have been challenged in court, largely unsuccessfully (see Weil, 1991; Yoskowitz, 1992; Mock, 1998). The impact of this policy on drug-related activity does not appear to have been evaluated, either as a deterrent or as a mechanism to enable willing communities to root out local drug markets.
The precedent established by the 1988 act was extended in 1996 to welfare benefits. Section 115 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 permanently denies food stamps or cash assistance to persons convicted of a drug felony. Although the federal law allows states to opt out of the ban, only eight have done so, and some states have gone further, excluding drug felons from state assistance programs as well as the federal program. A few states modified the ban to apply only to persons whose convictions were for drug trafficking (rather than possession), or to exempt persons who are enrolled in or who have successfully completed drug treatment (National Governor’s Association, 1997). Although it has been estimated that Section 115 permanently denies welfare eligibility to as many as 200,000 people per year (Harvard Law Review, 1997), data regarding its application are not available.
The ban on welfare benefits is under constitutional challenge. Its defenders rely on both the declarative effects (emphasizing the need to promote personal accountability) and the deterrent effects. Critics of the welfare ban argue that it has a disproportionate impact on minority women, that loss of economic support increases the already heightened risk of abuse and neglect in families without stable income and housing, and that loss of support will also increase foster care costs. Insofar as the committee can ascertain, the welfare ban has not been evaluated.
These practices raise two important questions regarding the premises and consequences of current policy on illegal drug use. First, and most important, what is the added value of benefit deprivation in deterring drug use or registering social disapproval? These laws add drug-specific