Students Find Drug Law Has Big Price

Students Find Drug Law Has Big Price
Posted by FoM on May 02, 2001 at 22:00:02 PT
By Diana Jean Schemo  
Source: New York Times
When a judge pronounced Russell Selkirk guilty of smoking marijuana in a car in December 1999, Mr. Selkirk, a freshman at Ohio State University, thought he left the courtroom knowing his sentence: a $250 fine, suspension of his driver's license, 20 hours of community service and a year's probation.But a month later, when Mr. Selkirk applied for financial aid for the coming academic year, he faced another sentence, loss of eligibility for low-interest federal education loans and grants. "I was amazed," said the student from Cincinnati. "It's like two penalties for the same crime." 
In the next few months, there are likely to be tens of thousands more students in Mr. Selkirk's situation. Under a law passed in 1998, but that is being fully enforced for the first time by the Bush administration, students convicted on drug charges become ineligible for federal financial aid and loans for one year after a possession conviction, or for two years after a conviction for selling drugs, unless they undergo a rehabilitation program that includes two random urine tests. Repeat offenders can face permanent loss of federal assistance to attend college. No other crime carries such a provision. Gov. Gary E. Johnson of New Mexico, who has sponsored state legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, said, "You can rob a bank, you can commit murder, just about any other crime and not be denied student aid, but a drug charge would deny you student aid."Others complain that the law is biased against the poor, who rely on the aid, and blacks, who make up a disproportionate percentage of those arrested on drug charges. While about 13 percent of the people taking illicit drugs are black, the same as their proportion in the general population, blacks represent 55 percent of the drug convictions, said David Borden, executive director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network. "There's every reason to believe there will be some racial disparity in the way this law operates," Mr. Borden said. "It's a second punishment that only affects those who qualify for financial aid." His organization is hoping to raise $100,000 for a fund to help students who are denied financial aid under the new law.Of nearly 10 million financial aid applications filed last year, 9,200 students lost financial aid for college for part or all of the academic year because of the law. Another 279,000 left the question blank, and were given the aid anyway, prompting complaints that the Clinton administration was punishing some students for their honesty.The Department of Education is now instructing students that answering is mandatory, and will deny aid to students who ignore the question. With about half of all financial aid applications for the coming school year already filed, roughly one-half of 1 percent of students have left the question blank, while 33,000 students needing financial aid have acknowledged a drug conviction.The growing numbers of students likely to see their help for college denied have set off a wave of organizing in opposition to the law. Nearly 60 student governments have passed resolutions against the law, many of them complaining that it unfairly punishes students in financial need, while wealthier students with drug records face no retribution. Officials at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities have criticized the law, and the association representing financial aid officers has taken a stand against it. Shawn Heller, who began Students for a Sensible Drug Policy as a student at George Washington University, said 90 chapters of the organization had opened on college campuses, with another 200 in the works, thanks in large measure to student anger over the law.Mr. Heller noted that in last year's presidential election, Al Gore acknowledged smoking marijuana in college, while on the campaign trail, President Bush declined to answer questions about whether he had used cocaine and other drugs, saying, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible."Mr. Heller said, "If you're president of the United States of America, you don't have to answer these questions, but if you're coming from a poor family and are trying to get an education, you do." The law's sponsor, Representative Mark Souder, Republican of Indiana, said the bill was intended to hold students receiving federal financial aid accountable and ensure that they did not become involved with drugs. "If my son goes to a party and he doesn't have the courage to say, `No, I don't want to smoke a joint,' he can say, `No, I could lose my student loan,' " Mr. Souder said. "It's not actually a good example, because my son is not on scholarship."Mr. Souder said he was troubled that the Department of Education had been applying the law retroactively to any aid applicant with a drug conviction in the last couple of years. "As an evangelical Christian, why would I ever propose something that does not believe in redemption?" Mr. Souder said. Harvey Silverglate, co-director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, predicted that the law would galvanize campuses, and focus the attention of the middle class on the drug war in a new way. In February, Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, reintroduced legislation to repeal the law. He predicted new support for repeal in the coming year, when thousands more parents find their children denied aid.Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Diana Jean SchemoPublished: May 3, 2001Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company Contact: letters Website: Forum: Related Articles & Web Site:Student's For Sensible Drug Policy To Once-Busted Students: Do As I Say To Enforce Financial Aid Drug Law CannabisNews Articles - SSDP
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Comment #6 posted by freedom fighter on May 03, 2001 at 23:31:38 PT
Thanks sm247!
I salute you!I went there and man!, it is so darn easy to get ahold of your own congresscritters and Sinators... \/ff
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Comment #5 posted by sm247 on May 03, 2001 at 12:20:45 PT
AcLU sent an action alert today concerning this legislation. Please take a moment to fax your rep (no fax machine is needed on your end)
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Comment #4 posted by kaptinemo on May 03, 2001 at 12:13:26 PT:
Times come 'round, again
Nate and FF, I couldn't agree with you more.Things won't change until Soccer Mom and Daddy Portfolio quit being so cavalier about the DrugWar. Which will happen when Johnnie and Suzy can't go to the school of their choice because they've been denied the funds needed...just for being caught with a doobie.When they wake up and realize that the antis don't give a damn about whose children they hurt, (which they've amply demonstrated with kids like Alberto Sepulveda. Oh, I forgot, he belonged to "those people" and didn't count. Didn't reside in the same gated community, I guess.) it wouldn't surprise me at all to see some of them getting out the paint-scraper and carefully and quietly removing that DARE sticker they stuck on the minivan.They probably believed it was some sort of talisman against evil spirits. A badge of political and social acceptance within the if it would somehow magically prevent their children from demonstrating curiosity about illicit substances.Yep, when they feel the pinch, there will be very quiet support of Barney Frank and his legislative proposals to remove this bit of Nazi-esque 'targeting'.
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Comment #3 posted by freedom fighter on May 03, 2001 at 09:08:26 PT
Let's hit em hard and fast!
Nate, I agree it is going to hit the middle-class. Instead of repelling this law, I am hoping that the people would just legalize and stop the drug war.I am hoping that Bush would keep on doing this for the next 2-3 years. As the numbers of students suddenly find they are not able to get the loan, this country will witness strongest army in world. The soliders of this army will not fire one bullet and they will change this country!It is time for a change..In the name of Freedom,\/ff
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Comment #2 posted by Nate H. on May 03, 2001 at 06:16:46 PT
Student Aid
I have a feeling this law will soon be withdrawn. It hits too many middle-class families where they live; the GOP might not give a shit about poor minority kids losing their scholarships. They will listen, however, when middle-class parents start raising their voices against a law that has negligible impact on rich people but puts a huge financial burden on anyone not in the top-income bracket.
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on May 03, 2001 at 04:36:05 PT:
More 'proof of the pudding'
namely, that Souder is, as one old 'Little Rascals' vignette used to say, "showing his iggorance""The law's sponsor, Representative Mark Souder, Republican of Indiana, said the bill was intended to hold students receiving federal financial aid accountable and ensure that they did not become involved with drugs. "If my son goes to a party and he doesn't have the courage to say, `No, I don't want to smoke a joint,' he can say, `No, I could lose my student loan,' " Mr. Souder said. "It's not actually a good example, because my son is not on scholarship."One can almost imagine Mr. Souder then sticking out his tongue, making a rude noise, followed by a petulent "So, there!"Yes, unless his son suddenly becomes in need of said government loans, he's quite safe. After all, he was not the intended target of this legislation. "Those people" were. You know...uh, er, "those...people" The "welfare queens" whose 20 children are out on the sidewalk simultaneously pimping her crack-addled a** while selling rock cocaine. Meanwhile, Boyfriend Number 347, whose name she can't remember and whose face is a blur is busy running a hi-tech meth lab in the kitchen. We can't let 'that kind' into our centers of higher learning!Yeah, you know what I'm talkin' about: "Those people". It's this idiotic dependence upon some twisted urban mythology, no different from the New York Times article from 1914 screaming about "Cocaine crazed N*****s", that these equally idiotic pols use as the justification for the insanity of the drug laws. Laws that people like Mr. Souder, in a fit of Herculean myopia, pass with a great deal of fervor. And we are stuck with it. Mr. Souder has claimed he was not aware of the possible 'unintended consequences' of his actions. Presumably Mr. Souder is an educated man; you would think he would at least have had the sense to realize that legislation, like a bullet fired from a gun that doesn't hit the intended target, keeps going until it hits something. And very often that something is an innocent bystander.Like Chastity Bowers. Like Alberto Sepulveda. Like Esequiel Hernandez. This only goes to show how incredibly short-sighted he is as a pol and that he is not fit for the position the people have entrusted him with. Because, like all of the drug laws passed in this country from the very beginning of this stupid war, these results were warned of long before this abomination of a bill was passed.
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