Drug conviction does not rule out financial aid

Home Archived News Drug conviction does not rule out financial aid

Cynthia Munoz

Published: November 22, 2006

The number of marijuana arrests has doubled since 1993. In fact, according to an FBI report, last year there were at least 786,545 marijuana arrests alone (88 percent possession only), and the largest in history.  This makes an outstanding record of one marijuana conviction every 40 seconds.

As a matter of fact, 18- to 24-year olds comprise at least 40 percent of the arrests in 2002, stated <b><a href=”http://www.norml.org/”>NORML (National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws)</a></b> lobbyist to Congress and state legislatures for more rational and cost-effective marijuana policies.  With these convictions come consequences, and the federal government stepped in and started hitting where it hurts – financial aid.

The <b><a href=”http://www.ed.gov/policy/highered/leg/hea98/index.html”>1998 Amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965</a></b> states, “In general- A student who has been convicted of an offense under Federal or State law involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance shall not be eligible to receive any grant, loan, or work assistance.”

Since the law’s enactment, more than 200,000 students have been denied aid.

The <b><a href=”http://www.ssdp.org/”>Students for a Sensible Drug Policy</a></b>, a network for students concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities say that the “War on Drugs” is failing society, arguing that taking aid away from students is not the way to go.  Moreover, it would strip away the student’s eligibility for a career without a college education.

“A drug conviction can follow a student for the rest of their lives by taking away their financial aid and making it harder to get jobs,” said Kris Krane, SSDP executive director. “These irrational ‘Drug War’ policies cause more, not fewer, drug problems.”

But according to Suzie Miller, a PJC criminal justice major, the excuse does not fly.

“Even if they don’t have aid, it doesn’t mean they have to go back and start an addiction or start peddling,” Miller said. “A lot of students don’t have aid and they are doing just fine.”

The SSDP might be jumping the band wagon if students agree with the policy.

“I think it’s excellent,” said Lyndsey Heatley, PJC criminal justice president. “[Aid is] a privilege, not a right.”

“They are tax payer dollars,” said Laurie Carmean, financial aid/veteran affairs district coordinator. “They don’t want to pay for people getting arrested.”

But the Feds seem to be lightening up.

“They want to give people a second chance,” Carmean said.

Last year <b><a href=”http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/”>FAFSA</a></b> forms asked the question, “Have you ever been convicted of possession or selling illegal drugs?” But now the form is more specific, providing a worksheet to answer this yes or no question, so that loop holes can form and students can slip through them with a second chance.

“They are not just knocking you out of the ballpark,” Carmean said. “It used to be ‘convicted at any time,’ denial. But now it’s more specific: Was it when or while you were receiving aid and over the age of 18?”

Otherwise, “you are not required to confirm the reported information unless you give conflicting information,” according to the Higher Education Authority.

The HEA is very lenient when it comes to giving second chances. But that is it.

According to <b><a href=”http://www.ed.gov/policy/highered/leg/hea98/sec483.html”>Section 484(r) of Student Eligibility 2006-07</a></b>, the first offense is one year of aid ineligibility (from the date of conviction), or “after the student completes a qualified drug rehabilitation program.”

“It’s not that hard,” Carmean said. “I know a student who went through it, and a lot of the rehab programs are located in the area.”

If you are student trying to receive aid under these terms, think twice about lying or leaving Question 31 blank. If left blank, the applicant will automatically be denied aid.  Providing false information on a federal form is a federal offense, resulting in a prison sentence and a $20,000 fine.

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