San Francisco Considers Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Amid Public Drug Use and Homeless Epidemic

By: Julia Mehalko | Published: Mar 07, 2024

San Francisco voters are considering whether to mandate drug testing for recipients who receive public benefits, such as those on welfare. According to many polls, it appears voters in this progressive city may indeed vote in favor of these propositions.

This latest reporting comes amid San Francisco’s ongoing crisis in dealing with a homeless epidemic, as well as an increase in drug use and trafficking in the city.

Proposition F and Proposition E

Voters will have the option to vote in favor of Proposition F and Proposition E when they head to the polls on Tuesday, March 5. If passed, Proposition E would require recipients of public benefits, such as those on welfare, to partake in drug screening.

Lombard Street in San Francisco, which winds down from a hill, showing many other buildings below it in the daytime.

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Meanwhile, Proposition E would allow the police to expand their surveillance tools. This proposition would also allow a reduction in police oversight.


Polls Show Voters Will Likely Vote in Favor of These Propositions

San Francisco has long been considered one of the most progressive cities in the entire United States. However, if voters pass these two propositions, it would show that many in the city are deciding to align with more law and order measures.

The silhouette of a person voting and dropping their vote in a box.

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San Francisco’s Chamber of Commerce poll recently found that these propositions would likely pass, as about 61% of voters support them. This poll also found that 72% of residents think the city is currently on the wrong track.

Voters Fight Back Against Public Drug Use

In the past few years alone, San Francisco has struggled to stop the outbreak of public drug use on its city’s streets. Rampant drug use has caused massive issues in the city. In 2023, 806 people died from overdoses in San Francisco — a new record.

People sitting and lying down on the grass in front of San Francisco’s City Hall, with some smoke seen on the ground.

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These overdoses were largely caused by fentanyl. If this proposition is passed, some voters hope it can curtail some of this drug use.

Drug Testing Those on Welfare Isn’t New

While drug screening public benefit recipients may be a new idea in San Francisco, it isn’t new elsewhere in the United States. This policy — which has long been aligned with Republicans — exists in various states already.

A man in San Francisco sitting down outside on a rock reading a newspaper.

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For example, this is a law in states such as Missouri and Alabama. However, many analysts recognize that a progressive city such as San Francisco enacting it would be a definite change in a different direction.

Proposition F’s Other Requirements

While much of the media surrounding Proposition F deals with its drug screening requirements, there are other factors tied to it. If this proposition passes, public benefit recipients will also have to partake in treatment programs if they want to continue to get their benefits.

People walking outside around cable cars on the street in San Francisco.

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Because of these requirements, supporters of the proposition think it will stop people from coming to San Francisco to use drugs while also receiving benefits.


Critics Say Proposition F Won’t Help Anything

Though polls say this prop will pass, it does have its fair share of critics. Many medical professionals have come out against it. Other critics say it won’t solve the drug crisis and instead will just hurt people trying to get sober.

Cars, motorcycles, and people all on a busy street in San Francisco surrounded by colorful buildings in the daytime.

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Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys said that the other parts of the country that have enacted these laws haven’t seen positive changes. Therefore, he doesn’t imagine anything good will happen in San Francisco. “I think it’s going to pass and I think it’s going to be a mess,” he said.


Have Voters Stopped Backing Progressives?

Only a few years ago, San Francisco voters were backing progressive politicians almost across the board. Now, after dealing with a homelessness crisis and a record-breaking year in overdoses, signs show many voters may stop backing progressive policies.

A voting envelope beside an American flag.

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However, this isn’t new. In 2022, district attorney Chesa Boudin, a progressive prosecutor, was recalled by voters over his actions in the first sign that voters wanted something different.


San Francisco Mayor Faces Backlash

Many voters from the left and right have criticized San Francisco’s mayor, Democrat London Breed. Breed is running a re-election campaign this year. She faces many challengers that are on the right of her on the political spectrum.

London Breed wearing all blue raising her hand up and waving while walking

Source: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

This has caused progressives to say she is changing her policies to win right-leaning votes. Breed has denied this allegation. However, she has supported both Proposition F and Proposition E.


An Attempt to Solve Major City Crises

Breed has denied allegations that she’s backing the propositions only to win re-election from right-leaning or moderate voters in San Francisco. Instead, supporters of these propositions have claimed that it will help solve the city’s problems.

London Breed speaking in front of a podium and into a microphone outside.

Source: Pax Ahimsa Gethen/Wikimedia Commons

“People keep trying to make this about being liberal or conservative, but it’s really about being compassionate, with some tough love in the process,” Breed said.


Will San Francisco Become More Centrist?

As many voters seemingly believe that progressive policies in San Francisco haven’t helped at all, there is a concerted push by centrist groups to bring about change in the city.

A man riding a bike in San Francisco before the Golden Gate Bridge, with people in the distance.

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If these two propositions do end up passing — as it looks like they may — then this could be a success for moderate and centrist groups in San Francisco who are looking to steer away from progressive ideals.


Why These Propositions May Pass

For such a progressive city like San Francisco, many analysts have been left intrigued about how these propositions could pass. According to Humphreys, these props passing will be the result of the frustration so many voters feel.

Two people walk across a street by a cable car in San Francisco.

Source: Jack Patrick/Unsplash

“The measure politically reflects enormous frustration with the lack of progress in reducing drug problems in San Francisco,” Humphreys explained. “This is something you normally associate with more conservative parts of the country.”