Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Goods News for Students Who Use Marijuana

Drug Offenders To Get Federal Student Aid Under New Bill

College students convicted of drug possession could soon have access to
federal student loans because of a little noticed provision in a student
aid bill that is riling opponents who say it removes a deterrent to
using drugs and rewards lawbreakers.

By Maxim Lott

Friday, August 07, 2009

College students convicted of drug possession may soon get access to
federal student loans due to a little-noticed provision in the 181-page
Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009.

The bill, which makes major revisions to the student loan system, was
introduced by California congressman George Miller, a Democrat. It is
expected to pass in the House of Representatives.

The provision would reverse a 1998 amendment that made students
convicted of drug-possession ineligible to receive federal funding
unless they completed a rehabilitation program and passed two
unannounced drug tests. Students convicted of dealing drugs would
continue to be prohibited from receiving financial aid.

Advocates on both sides of the issue say it is an important one.

"This bill is an important step in restoring education to our country's
youth," said Adam Wolf, staff attorney for the ACLU, which has
unsuccessfully fought the current restriction for several years in the

Kris Krane, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy,
said of the current law: "It's an unfair penalty, it's double jeopardy,
and it impacts students of color and low income students predominantly.
It actually creates more drug abuse, because we know that the best way
to prevent drug abuse later on in life is to get a college degree. That
opens opportunities for economic advancement later on in life."

But law enforcement groups say the current law is supposed to make
students think twice before using drugs.

"[Changing this policy] would remove one more deterrent for people
breaking the law. It's not good policy and is something that we would
oppose," Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police,
told FOXNews.com.

Others say tax dollars should not be spent to help people who break the
law go to college.

"If they want to continue to use drugs they ought to pay for college
themselves. Or get off the drugs -- and stay off the drugs -- as a
condition for continuing to be supported by the taxpayers," said Dr.
Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious
Liberty Commission.

"It isn't as though these students can't get federal funding back. They
have all kinds of opportunities to [get it back] by entering a treatment

Over 200,000 students have been denied financial aid because of drug
infractions over the last 10 years, according to data from the
Department of Justice. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that
giving aid to students convicted of drug possession would cost an extra
$24 million over the next 10 years.

One of those students who lost her financial aid was Kandice Hawes, who
was a freshman at California State University, Fullerton, when she was
convicted of marijuana possession in Nevada.

"I was in Las Vegas," she said, "and I had a little more than an ounce
[of marijuana], which was a felony at that time.... So I lost my aid.

"I had to take on a full-time job to stay in school, and ever since I've
been trying to make it up by taking classes after work. I can't go to
school full-time any more," she said.

Hawes said she did not enter a treatment program because of the
prohibitive cost -- thousands of dollars, she said.

After her arrest, she said, she founded a chapter of NORML, a marijuana
advocacy group. She is currently taking night classes to get a political
science degree.

"[Changing this law] would be the best thing that could happen," she
said. "Murderers and rapists are still able to get school funds, so
people [convicted on] possession of marijuana charges definitely
shouldn't get the money taken away."

Pasco agreed that the current law prohibits only drug users from
receiving aid -- there are no legal prohibitions for other felons,
including murderers and rapists -- but he said that he would prefer to
see the law made even stricter.

"If they're looking for consistency, then no lawbreakers should get
federal aid. We love consistency, but consistency means that if you
break the law there are consequences for your actions," he said.

Duke, of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he disagreed with Krane's
argument that putting students though college would help get them off of

"I think eventually most people outgrow their youthful enthusiasm for
drugs, but I'm not convinced college is the thing that causes them to
outgrow that."

The office of Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., who authored the 1998 bill, did
not return calls for comment.

Whether the provision will become law mostly depends on the Senate,
Krane said.

"It is highly likely that it will pass the full house," he said, adding
that an amendment to remove the provision from the bill was killed in

"We have no idea yet whether the Senate bill will include this language,
but if it is in the Senate version and it passes both houses, that would
be terrific."

http://www.foxnews. com/politics/ 2009/08/07/ drug-offenders- federal-studen\

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