President Bill Clinton signed legislation yesterday denying convicted marijuana offenders from receiving federal student loan assistance. The language, introduced by Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) as an amendment to the Higher Education Act (H.R. 6), mandates that "A student who has been convicted of any offense under any Federal or State law involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance shall not be eligible to receive any [federal] grant, loan, or work assistance."
NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. called the new law unfair. "It is outrageous that Congress and the President would pass this law denying financial aid to students for minor non-violent drug offenses, while a felony conviction for a serious violent crime brings no such penalty," he said. "What kind of message is Washington sending?"
The new law suspends first time drug offenders from receiving student aid for one year. Second time offenders will be ineligible for two years, and multiple repeat offenders will be barred indefinitely. Drug sellers will be ineligible for two years after their first conviction, and indefinitely prohibited from receiving aid upon a second conviction. Students may resume eligibility before completing their suspension if they participate in a drug rehabilitation program and pass two random drug tests.
Stroup questioned how fairly the new law would apply to marijuana offenders. "In many states, marijuana possession is decriminalized (a civil violation punishable by payment of a small fine), while in others it's a misdemeanor or a felony. Depending on which state students live in, this legislation may or may not apply to you."
Scott Ehlers, spokesman for The Drug Policy Foundation in Washington, D.C., also criticized the measure. "The Higher Education Act's denial of student loans to convicted drug offenders proves that drug laws can ruin a person's life more thoroughly than drug use," he said.
For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751 or Scott Ehlers of The Drug Policy Foundation @ (202) 537-5005.