Maine repeals its failed TANF drug testing requirement

Of thousands of applicants and beneficiaries, fewer than 10 people tested positive for illegal drugs between 2015 and 2018.

Maine repeals its failed TANF drug testing requirement
Gov. Janet Mills (D-ME) in January. She signed a budget on Monday that repealed the state's TANF drug testing requirement. (Photo credit: Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Maine has repealed its controversial and abysmally unsuccessful drug testing requirement for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) beneficiaries. Gov. Janet Mills (D), who had proposed the change, signed it into law on Monday as part of a $7.98 billion two-year state budget agreement.

Between its enactment in 2015 and the end of 2018, fewer than 10 beneficiaries actually tested positive for illegal substances.

ThinkProgress has done an annual analysis of Maine and the 12 other states with drug testing requirements for TANF applicants or beneficiaries. The programs have universally found few positive tests. Experts say this is likely because poor people typically cannot afford illegal drugs and statistically are no more likely to battle addiction than anyone else.

Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, hailed the news.

“We know that requiring drug testing as a condition of receiving public assistance stigmatizes people who need help, doesn’t reduce drug use in a meaningful way, doesn’t help those who do test positive,” he told ThinkProgress. “It’s costly to the state and is a burden to state workers. And it’s a very ineffective approach to help those who are struggling with substance use.”


In 2015, then-Gov. Paul LePage (R) signed a budget containing a provision that required any TANF seekers with a previous felony drug conviction to be screened for illegal drug use.

The move was part of a series of so-called “tough love” changes LePage pushed for in the state’s welfare system which demonized people for being poor and made it harder to access benefits. That year, just two people tested positive.

Just seven more drug tests came back positive over the next two years. After the state’s voters repealed Maine’s marijuana prohibition in 2016, the LePage administration’s hunt for illegal drug users became even more quixotic. In 2018, all 41 positive tests were for either pot or methadone, rather than illegal substances.

While the program in Maine was more cost effective in than in many other states, Smith said that “all the administrative costs” and “people having to go out of their way to get the tests done,” amounted to “a waste of time and money for everyone involved.”

He said the rest of the country should learn from Maine’s example.

“This was an enlightened decision by the Maine legislature and the governor to repeal this nonsensical policy,” he said. “I think a lot of other states that have had similar failures with this drug testing approach should look at what Maine’s doing and follow suit.”


The repeal was in section CCC of the budget agreement. The final legislation passed on bipartisan votes of 104-38 in the House and 25-9 in the Senate, easily exceeding the required two-thirds super-majority.

Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) is also trying to repeal drug testing requirements for TANF and an assistance program called FoodShare in his state. A repeal was included in his proposed 2019-2021 budget proposal, though the Republican-controlled state legislature has not yet passed a bill.

Amanda Gomez contributed reporting to this story.