On Thursday, a Congressional committee approved legislation repealing the federal law that punishes college students who are ex-convicts of marijuana charges by denying or stripping them of their financial aid. The rule was enacted in 1998, by the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty. It has denied thousands of students’ access to means of paying tuition because of minor marijuana offenses.
Marijuana critics said that denying students access to financial aid is a counterproductive way of responding to drug use and misuse. According to the executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Betty Aldworth, the best intervention amongst the youth is providing them with quality education. She further noted that denying them access to means of furthering their education harms the students and the communities.
Apart from removing the penalty, the drug conviction question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is also to be removed by the House Education and Labor Committee.
In 2006, the rule was amended from all past offenses to those convicted while on financial aid programs. Marijuana advocates said that the FAFSA question is unclear, and this has caused many eligible students not to apply.
The deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, Grant Smith, said that they are aware that the question confuses students whereby those who have had an interaction with the police may not complete the FAFSA application process after deeming themselves unqualified.
The HEA legislation reform is to be eventually voted upon by the Senate, and it is uncertain if the Republican-controlled chamber will approve the drug penalty repeal.
Several advocacy groups are working to delete the drug conviction penalty and reinstate the financial aid accessibility to incarcerated college students. These include the SSDP, DPA and other stakeholders associated with Unlock Higher Ed Coalition.
According to Aldworth, young people’s opinions are crucial for the success of movements geared towards social change because they are the ones who are directly affected by injustice. He went ahead and said that SSDP has been working for the last 20 years to make education accessible to all Americans, particularly those who are caught using drugs.
The coalition brought those affected by the federal law to Capitol Hill to meet with the legislators and staffers to show how the rule affects criminally convicted students, and to show that only those who need the financial aid are affected, said Smith.
The advocates also noted that people from families that are financially stable do not have to worry about losing their financial aid over marijuana or any other drug conviction. They further argued that the law to be repealed is discriminatory because it is enforced more strictly on people of color, even though almost all people, irrespective of color, use drugs.
According to Aldworth, black youths are affected by the federal rules just as the black people are the main targets of war against drugs.
Earlier this year, Senator Cory Booker filed a legislation calling for the removal of drug conviction question from the FAFSA. Analysts are uncertain as to what marijuana companies like Willow Biosciences Inc. (CSE: WLLW) and Hemptown USA think about the chances of this proposed law reaching the desk of the President for enactment.
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