The War on Drug's New Weapon 

The War on Drug's New Weapon 
Posted by FoM on June 27, 2000 at 12:38:43 PT
By Garrick Pursley, Daily Texan Columnist
Source: The Daily Texan
Beginning July 1, changes to the Federal Higher Education Act will take effect, altering the process by which students apply for financial aid. Initially passed in 1998, the act contains a provision that makes a clean drug record a condition for granting financial aid. Previously, the question about drug convictions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form was optional. Now, under the new law, a response is mandatory.
Students with a single conviction for a drug related offense are subject to having their aid suspended for one year. The second offense results in a two-year suspension of aid, and the third conviction causes aid to be suspended indefinitely. What does Congress hope to accomplish with this regulation? The ostensible answer would seem to be that the potential denial of financial aid would serve as a deterrent to college students contemplating experimenting with drugs. Realistically speaking, however, it is more likely that the new regulation will simply encourage dishonesty among applicants. Students on 25 college campuses, along with the NAACP, have moved in protest of the new law, claiming that it is unfair, and demanding congressional repeal. This newest outgrowth of the hideously unsuccessful "War on Drugs" campaign is nothing more than another piecemeal solution to a problem that seems to pervade society to its deepest levels. Predicated on the "carrot and stick" deterrence ideology, Congress hopes to transform eligibility for financial aid from an American right into a prize to be awarded to those displaying desirable behavior profiles. Noble ambitions aside, however, it must be noted that the law is, by its nature, inherently discriminatory. Targeting a minority of college students, the financially disadvantaged, reveals the presupposition, carried by the discourse of the law and its enforcement, that poverty is synonymous with criminality. Is this really a tenable assumption? It is impossible to know what percentage of those students who do not need financial aid have been convicted of drug offenses, because there is no such question on the general university application for admission. The unevenness of the new law places those students who rely on financial aid at a disadvantage, proclaiming their proclivity to "socially deviant" behavior on the basis of their economic background. This sort of stigmatization seems equivocal to a sort of "class profiling," placing individuals into a category with a set of presumed characteristics requiring closer scrutiny and greater governmental regulation. Such "profiling" has been found discriminatory with respect to race, and there appears to be a direct parallel with the discrimination that will probably occur under the new law. Additionally, the law is fundamentally unenforceable. Students wishing to protect their financial aid eligibility will lie on their applications. How can the already overtaxed resources of university financial aid offices be expected to verify the criminal record of each and every applicant? Will such offices learn to rely on FBI-like background checks to ensure that no drug offender receives federal money? What would that procedure cost? Legislation of this kind, intended to further a societal goal at the expense of reducing individual liberties, might work in the case of affirmative action. The higher education act, however, seems incapable of achieving its lofty goal of purifying college campuses. If the impetus behind Congress' action is to reduce drug use among college students, targeting the few while ignoring the debauchery of the many is the wrong way to go about it. No wonder people are protesting.Congress has a historically established predilection to occasionally attempt to legislate morality. Prohibition, abortion proscription, and similar laws have always sparked protest from segments of the population and have almost always failed to accomplish what was intended. What place is there for punitive anti-drug regulations in higher education? Aren't the penalties incurred from a drug conviction serious enough? The message that the government seems to be transmitting with this new law is different from that of the "War on Drugs" generally. No longer are those who use drugs merely uneducated. Now they are unfit to be educated. Why not, in the interest of fairness, just require every college applicant to answer the drug conviction question prior to admission, and then bar those with drug records from attending college at all? The effect would be the same, only not so discriminatory.Pursley is a philosophy seniorMail to the Editor: texaned Web Posted: June 27, 2000Copyright 2000 Texas Student PublicationsRelated Articles & Web Sites:U-Net Students For Sensible Drug Policy Your Voice No Loans for Stoners Seeking Aid Not Answering Drug Question With Drug Convictions Will Soon Be Denied Loans for Student Drug Offenders 
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Comment #1 posted by CD1 on June 27, 2000 at 13:07:23 PT
Oh yeah, this act makes a lot of sense. Let's see, we'll make it where a financially disadvantaged student will lose financial aid on the basis of single drug related offense. That means he or she will probably have to leave college and will back on the streets with a less rewarding career. And this supposedly will solve the drug problem in the U.S.Meanwhile, college football can (a) get caught buying clothing a department store with a "special discount, (b) beat his girlfriend up, (c) bribe a police officer, or (d) rape a coed, without any consequences other than missing a couple of games. He does not lose his scholarship, if fact will probably make huge money when he goes professional. This seems REALLY fair. And the DEA is still trying to convince us that it is marijuana counter-culture that is turning our kids into criminals. 
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