The so-called “drug testing for welfare benefits” law that SF voters passed in March will not actually involve drug testing, but instead be based simply on what people answer on a questionnaire.

After San Francisco voters passed Mayor Breed’s drug screening for welfare recipients measure in March, the national and international press insisted that the party was over in SF.

“San Francisco appears to pass measure for welfare recipients to be drug-tested,” declared the Guardian.

Fox News weighed in with “Liberal San Francisco on brink of drug-testing welfare recipients: 'The pendulum is swinging.'”

And a just-published article in KFF Health News says “San Francisco Tries Tough Love by Tying Welfare to Drug Rehab.”

That KFF Health News article has some details on the specifics of the new program, which kicks in on January 1, 2025. And we learn the very important detail that this is a drug screening program, but not an actual drug testing program. Effectively, they’re just using the honor system to determine whether you are a drug addict, and whether you could be denied public assistance benefits under the new law.

“No one will be forced to undergo substance abuse treatment, nor will anyone be subject to drug testing,” KFF News reports. “Rather, starting in January 2025, San Francisco’s public assistance recipients who screen positive for addiction on a 10-question drug abuse test will be referred to treatment.”

Wait, a “10-question drug abuse test?” Yep, that’s the criteria. Apparently they just take your word for whatever answers you give.


The questions run along the lines of “Have you engaged in illegal activities in order to obtain drugs?” and “Do you use more than one drug at a time?” One could probably even fill out the questionnaire while high out of one's gourd, and still not “screen positive for addiction.”

We should note that this program only affects benefits administered by the City and County of San Francisco. (KFF Health News assesses this as “$109 a month that the city grants to homeless adults,” and “$712 a month it grants to adults with home addresses.”) The state-administered SNAP / Food Stamp program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program benefits are not affected by these drug-screening restrictions.

Moreover, only single adults with no dependents fall under the drug screening requirements.

So this drug screening “test” seems frankly pretty easy to beat. But it still may be the wisest course of action, particularly for a city facing a budget deficit. After all, an analysis from The Hill found that states which employ these drug-tests-for-welfare-benefits restrictions often end up spending more money on the drug testing itself than they save on denying benefits to the small handful of people who test positive.

Related: Mayor London Breed Proposes Linking Cash Assistance With Compelling Recipients Into Drug Treatment [SFNews]

Image: Doctor in blue uniform and latex gloves is holding an empty plastic container for taking urine samples, light background (Getty Images)