Pubdate: Fri, 24 Mar 2006
Source: Ball State Daily News (IN Edu)
Copyright: 2006 The Ball State Daily News
Author: Jessica Kerman
Cited: American Civil Liberties Union
Cited: Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)
Bookmark: (Crime Policy - United States)


Freshman Convicted for Drug Possession Loses Financial Aid

A freshman at Ball State University, with the American Civil 
Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit Wednesday aiming to overturn a law 
that keeps students who are convicted of a drug violation from 
receiving federal financial aid.

Alexis Schwab, a public relations major, is one of three individuals 
involved in the lawsuit, teaming with the ACLU and the Students for 
Sensible Drug Policy Foundation. Schwab would not comment on the 
lawsuit, referring questions to her lawyer Adam Wolf.

Schwab was convicted for possession of marijuana and sentenced to 
community service in August. The conviction was her first offense. 
According to a statement made to the Associated Press, Wolf, a staff 
attorney for the ACLU, said Schwab had less than a gram of the drug.

"Funding education is one of the smartest uses of tax dollars," Wolf 
said in an interview Thursday. "If kids stay in college, they have a 
far greater chance of soon becoming productive tax payers. This law 
deters education, not drug use."

Congress enacted the law in 1998, which prevents students with drug 
convictions from receiving federal financial aid.

The law offers options to students to become eligible after a 
conviction. According to the law, someone convicted of possession of 
a controlled substance is ineligible for one year for a first 
offense, for two years for a second offense, and indefinitely 
ineligible for a third offense. However, if the student completes an 
"acceptable" drug rehabilitation program, he or she can receive 
federal financial aid.

Martin Green, a spokesman for Indiana Rep. Mark Souder, said Souder 
wrote the law because he believes students who abuse drugs should not 
be subsidized with the taxpayer's money.

Schwab received a $4,050 Pell grant for the 2005-2006 school year, 
but she is not eligible for the grant for next school year because of 
the conviction.

According the U.S. Board of Education, Schwab is one of 19 million 
undergraduate students who receive some type of assistance. According 
to Wolf, the law affects 35,000 students throughout the country.

The lawsuit is part of a series of initiatives to take the drug 
provision out of the Higher Education Act. In January, the Advisory 
Committee on Student Financial Assistance recommended that the drug 
provision be removed from the financial aid application. In February, 
Congress changed the law to allow students with past offenses to 
receive financial aid, but not those convicted while enrolled in 
college. The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims that the law violates the 
Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment, as it punishes the 
student twice for the same crime. Wolf said the law causes several 
problems for the students.

The drug rehabilitation programs, while beneficial and appropriate, 
often present problems, he said.

Fees for the program can cost as much as, or more than, tuition in 
some cases, Wolf said.

One student in South Dakota, who is also involved in the lawsuit, had 
to pay more than $2,500 to take a second drug rehabilitation program 
because the one he initially took did not meet the guidelines 
Congress set, according to an article on The lawsuit 
was filed in a U.S. District Court in South Dakota.

Also, the programs are hard to find, Wolf said.

"And their roles are for people with serious drug addictions," he 
said. "The vast majority of the people affected use drugs rarely."

Wolf said he feels the ACLU and the others in the lawsuit have strong claims.

"We're hoping that the court will agree with us that this law 
violates the constitution," he said. 
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