Washington, DC: A coalition of federal lawmakers, educational organizations and students came together today on Capitol Hill to protest a federal provision in the Higher Education Act (HEA) that bars students with a prior drug conviction including the misdemeanor possession of marijuana from receiving federal financial aid. Since 1998, more than 93,000 students have been denied access to federal aid because of the provision, which was included in the HEA in 1998 by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN).
“While I don’t condone drug use, I disagree with the idea of using the federal financial aid system to punish people who have been convicted ofrelatively minor drug convictions,” said Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). He was joined by Reps. Tom Allen (D-ME), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Bobby Scott (D-VA) and representatives from Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), among others.
Congress is expected to debate the controversial provision later this year, and consider legislation to make the law apply only to students who are convicted while receiving student aid, as well legislation sponsored by Rep. Frank to repeal the provision altogether.
NORML Affiliate Coordinator Kris Krane told attendees at the press conference that it was needlessly punitive for the federal government to remove educational opportunities from those found guilty of a minor pot conviction. “Marijuana is by far the most widely used illegal drug among young people and the majority of students impacted by this law have marijuana convictions,” he said. “It’s unfair to deny student’s the right to an education just because they were caught with a joint or small amount of marijuana.”