Cannabis News Media Awareness Project
  Smoke a Joint, Lose Your Loan
Posted by FoM on May 19, 2000 at 08:25:55 PT
By Jake Ginsky 
Source: MoJoWire Starting this July, a new law will cut off federal financial aid to students convicted of drug offenses. As Rep. Barney Frank points out, violent felons are evidently more welcome in US universities than pot smokers.

"Anne" is the type of success story that makes college admissions officers smile. She had little money growing up, but with the help of federal loans and a lot of sweat has managed to afford an education at Ohio's Antioch College.

In addition to attending school full-time, she currently works two jobs, one of which involves teaching drama to grade-school children. If all goes well, she will graduate at the end of the summer with a degree in theater.

But to the federal government, Anne is a campus undesirable. In early May, police caught her with an empty one-hit pipe containing residue from the marijuana she occasionally smokes, and now she's awaiting trial. The charge is only misdemeanor drug possession -- but if she's convicted, Anne may lose her federal Pell Grant, which she depends on to pay for school.

That's thanks to a new law kicking into effect July 1, which requires the federal government to deny or delay all financial aid to students with a drug conviction in the past year.

"Without federal aid, I couldn't go to school," said Anne. "It's just utterly ridiculous to think that I've worked this long to get here, and now this new law might blow me out of the water."

Passed into law two years ago, the no-loans-for-stoners provision of the Higher Education Act is now drawing heavy criticism from many legislators, activist groups, and educators, who say it will unfairly deprive serious students of an education and inherently discriminate against minorities and low-income people.

So far, of the roughly 5 million applications the Education Department has processed for the 2000-2001 school year, only about 3,200 applicants will either be refused aid entirely or have it delayed because of a drug conviction. But some 10 million students apply for federal financial aid each year; and according to the federal government's own most recent estimates, some 27 percent of all Americans aged 18 to 25 have used illegal drugs in the past year. That means the new law could potentially affect hundreds of thousands, even millions, of students.

"It's indicative of this obsession with being overly punitive with regard to the use of drugs," says Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who has introduced legislation to overturn the loan ban. "You single out drug offenders, so apparently armed robbery is not as serious an offense."

Critics say the issue is not just one of numbers, but also of basic fairness. Many students will be penalized for simple bad luck. "It's kind of just hit-or-miss as far as who gets busted [for drug use]," says Alex Kreit of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Hampshire College.

And because it singles out convicted drug offenders, many say the loan ban provision will hurt minorities -- particularly blacks -- the most. African Americans constitute 59 percent of those convicted of drug offenses, even though African Americans and whites have about the same rate of drug use, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

In addition, critics say, the law discriminates against poor people, since they are obviously most in need of financial aid.

"Wealthier kids are more likely to have adequate counsel in court, and they're more likely to get a better plea deal," says Adam Smith, associate director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network. "Even if they do end up with a drug conviction, they're not going to be dependent on financial aid to get their education anyway."

Angela Flood, a spokesperson for Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., who sponsored the legislation, said the provision will help ensure a healthier learning environment. "[Financial aid] is a privilege, not a right," she said.

Flood also pointed to a provision that exempts drug offenders from the loan provision if they've completed an "acceptable drug rehabilitation program." But critics say that since the law will mostly affect minor drug offenders, requiring that they attend often-costly rehab programs to get financial assistance is unfair in itself.

Aside from the ethical issues it raises, the provision is proving to be an administrative migraine. Students are supposed to confess to their drug use in question 28 of the federal student aid application form. But that question was left blank on about 20 percent of the first wave of applications -- not because applicants were dodging the question but simply because many didn't understand it, according to Karen Freeman, communications director for Student Financial Assistance. Initially, the page-long "worksheet" (since amended) was worded in such bewildering language that only someone on serious drugs could've hoped to make sense of it. To avoid bottlenecking the system, the department processed the incomplete forms without penalizing any applicants.

An even greater problem officials face is how to tell whether those who do answer question 28 are telling the truth. There is no national database of drug convictions. "It is difficult to enforce," admits Freeman. "Is it really worth slowing down the system for the millions of applicants who have absolutely no business with a drug offense to find the very small percentage who are lying?"

Still, Freeman says that students who lie on their aid forms do stand a chance of being caught -- a crime that can bring up to a $10,000 fine or imprisonment.

Last year, Rep. Frank introduced a bill to repeal the loan-ban provision. But, despite several on-campus rallies supporting the bill, it appears doomed, according to several members of the Education and Workforce Committee, where it now sits. "My colleagues are terrified of being accused of being soft on drugs," Frank said. "I think this is one area where the public is way ahead of them."

Assuming Frank's bill does die, dedicated students such as Anne will simply have to hope for the best.

"It's not like I'm a violent criminal or anything," Anne says. "I'm not out on the streets raping and killing people. All I want is to get through these last three months and get my degree."

What do you think?

Direct Link To MoJo Wire Article:

Drug Reform Coordination Network

Students For Sensible Drug Policy

Raise Your Voice

Web Posted: May 18, 2000
Foundation for National Progress

Related Articles:

Drug Bust = No Student Loans

No Loans for Student Drug Offenders

Column: New Financial Aid Policy an Injustice

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Comment #6 posted by Al L. on December 01, 2000 at 15:37:49 PT:

Say What??!!
I'm darn golly pissed off here. It seems to me that I need to get some might and take what I want because I SMOKE POT!!
Crimes the only thing thats going to pay because I can't even get a job at safeway bagging groceries for the fear that I might get fired for smoking weeds on my own time. no matter how great I treat the customer. Apperently I (A TWENTY-ONE YEAR OLD BOY!!) am better off to formulate an elaborate plan involving theft and violence than to pursue a gentleman's education and attempt to make a cultural difference on the youth's (figuratively) lined up for slaughter behind me. If there is anyone in seattle who needs a hard worker thats excited to learn and do the right thing. here I am. Ready, willing, and able to give up everything and rob someone who worked hard for what they have. this should prove that you can make a difference in a sick, sad world by turning cheek and forgiving me for being an evil, evil, evil, potsmoker.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #5 posted by kaptinemo on May 20, 2000 at 18:51:05 PT:

Social engineers...Left and Right
One of the things the electronic mouthpieces of the Rabid Radio Right often blather and shriek about (until you'd think they'd die on-the-air of apoplexy) is 'social engineering'. "Women in the military". "Civil Rights". Such matters as these. They fuliminate, they gibber, and it's a good thing you aren't in the studio with them, because you'd be soaking wet from all the flying spittle. Yes sir, they hate the idea of 'social engineering'...unless it's their precious War on (Some) Drugs. Then, it's all hunkey-dorey with them.

'Angela Flood, a spokesperson for Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., who sponsored the legislation, said the provision will help ensure a healthier learning environment. "[Financial aid] is a privilege, not a right," she said'

Yes, only the pure of chromosomes shall pass through the groves of academia. Free from the taint of thinking for themsalves and doubting what they've been taught (like the lies told to them by the DARE officer). Safe from the temptation of chemically catalyzed thought processes (which are responsible for such advances as modern electronics, computers, and the DNA tests that cops love to use so much) which might cause them to wander from the True Faith of the Church of The Right and the Gospel of Saint Nancy. Yes, like fresh modelling clay, they shall be moulded into razor sharp middle managers for the coming Global Plantation which will be the ultimate result of Globalization. Sing the corporate anthem with pride! Hallelujah!

These goofs almost never realize the depths of their own hypocrisy, and certainly never are able to put two and two together. No matter how screamingly obvious it is, they will never admit that, they, too, are dabbling in the very same 'black arts' that they accuse the Left of engaging in. Social engineering of any sort is the precursor to tyranny; just ask any Jew who survived Hitler's Germany and he'll tell you: it started in schools, first. Demanding unity of thought and action, and if you didn't fit in... well, we all know what happened to the 'misfits'.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #4 posted by Jeaneous on May 19, 2000 at 19:19:29 PT:

Pissed Off!!!
This law just flat pisses me off. In this wonderful country of ours, prisoners that have committed violent crimes including murder, have the opportunity to gain a college education while incarcerated, for free no less.... Yet, here is a law that will make a young student just starting out their life lose the same opportunity if they have had a drug conviction. And these students are paying for their education.

How in the hell does this government ever believe that this is going to "help" the country? Those students are the ones that will continue on in life and be the leaders of the next generation. To me it seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

A real productive government we have here folks...... yeah right....

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #3 posted by Dan Hillman on May 19, 2000 at 19:09:14 PT
Theory of Drug War Relativity
"Rape and murder rap? No problem sir, we don't ask about that on the form. You did what? You GOT CAUGHT WITH A JOINT? I'm afraid that we'll have to reject your application...sorry sir, the law is, after all, the law."

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #2 posted by Frustrated on May 19, 2000 at 15:04:03 PT
The F.A. form is already too confusing..
I filled out my financial aid form this year and had to leave Question #28 blank. I lost the insrtuction sheet and so i had no idea what to put in the blank. Thankfully, i later received a preliminary processed copy to complete, but i still had to call the Financial Aid hotline to have some instructions explained to me. I think this whole thing is totally unfair, and i agree with the article. This "requirement" needs to be removed from the application and the process.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #1 posted by freedom fighter on May 19, 2000 at 09:59:09 PT
Who are these people?
Angela Flood, a spokesperson for Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., who sponsored the legislation, said the provision will help ensure a healthier learning environment. "[Financial aid] is a privilege, not a right," she said

We pay tax so we can have kids in college.. It is a right?
In five years, I will not be surprised if these potsmokers band together and start burning the cities becuz they have nothing else to do! I do not think it will promote healthier learning environment! To people of Ind. VOTE Souder out of the office because he is bad for the environment!

[ Post Comment ]

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