Pubdate: Wed, 17 Oct 2007
Source: Guardian (Wright State U, OH Edu)
Copyright: 2007 Guardian
Author: Adam Feuer
Cited: Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Bookmark: (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


Students With a Marijuana Misdemeanor Have Same Consequences

The number of on-campus drug arrests increased from 2006 to 2007, and
being convicted of a drug offense while in college can put students'
federal financial aid packages in jeopardy.

The Wright State Police Department made 12 on-campus drug-related
arrests in 2006, according to a crime statistics report published by
the University. With two-and-a-half months left in the year, the
number of campus drug arrests stands at 14 for 2007, according Wendy
Chetcuti, Wright State Police Records Manager.

Those receiving federal financial aid stand to have that aid suspended
as the result of a drug conviction. At Wright State, there are 14,861
students receiving some form of federal financial aid.

A provision of the Higher Education Amendments (HEA) of 1998 suspends
or prevents eligibility for federal financial aid from any student
convicted of a drug offense. This provision took effect in 2000, when
question 31 was added to the Free Application for Federal Student aid

Question 31 asks applicants if they have ever been convicted of a
drug-related offense. If a student answers yes to question 31 they are
given a worksheet on which to provide details of the conviction, in
order for the federal government to determine the extent to which they
will be affected by the law.

The answer to question 31 is entirely self-reported, according to
Wright State's Financial Aid Director Willie Boyd. He stated that only
two FAFSA applicants at Wright State have ever answered yes to
question 31.

In 2005, the HEA was re-written to provide suspension of financial aid
only in cases where students are convicted while already receiving
aid. In other words, only drug offenders who were receiving aid before
their conviction, and answered "yes" to question 31 when re-applying
for the next year of aid, would stand to be affected.

"To my knowledge the University has never been notified by the federal
government to rescind aid in the midst of an academic year," Boyd said.

The re-write, called the Higher Education Reconciliation Act, was
designed to narrow the scope of the law.

Critics of the law argue that taking away a person's ability to pay
for their education is antithetical to fixing their drug problems.

"It makes very little sense to punish people with civil remedies that
make it harder for them to get past their problems. Many students
convicted of drug-related offenses are involved in a drug-culture. A
college education helps them to get out of that drug-culture," said
Michael R. Booher, Managing Attorney for WSU's Student Legal Services,

Students For a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) agrees. In 2006 they filed
a class-action suit in South Dakota District Court against the US
Secretary of Education, claiming the HEA inflicts unfair
extra-judicial consequences on drug offenders.

To do so, they asserted, violates the Double Jeopardy Clause of the
5th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits people from being
punished twice for the same crime. The judge did not find that
argument compelling and dismissed the case. Proponents of the law
argue that the government has a right to restrict financial aid for
drug offenders as long as they are attending school at taxpayer expense.

Senior Jake Kohler, an organizational leadership major, wasn't aware
of the law but says he supports it. He believes that if someone is
going to school at the federal government's expense they should be
accountable for their drug usage. "People shouldn't be able to use
their federal loan to subsidize a drug habit. The government should be
able to take it away, absolutely," said Kohler.

Booher concedes that the government is entitled to take away aid from
convicted drug users, "but does it really make sense?" He stated that
the vast majority of drug cases his office sees are for marijuana,
which he believes "should be dealt with differently."

Of the 73 on-campus drug law arrests made by WSU police from 2004 to
present, 70 were for marijuana possession.

Another argument of the law's critics is that the law doesn't make any
distinction between types of drugs. A student convicted for smoking a
joint faces the same risk of losing aid as one convicted for selling

"Possession of under 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor,"
Booher said. Rather than take away federal aid for students convicted
of that offense, he suggests mandatory counseling and drug testing.
"That would be more sensible, at least for the first-time (offender),"
he said. But taking away financial aid from a first-time marijuana
possession offender is "fundamentally wrong," he said.

Under the HEA, aid for drug offenders is suspended either indefinitely
or for a specified period of time, depending on whether the conviction
is for sale or possession, and on whether it is a repeat offense.

The 2005 re-write of the HEA does stipulate that drug offenders may
undergo drug rehabilitation and submit to random drug testing, to
shorten the amount of time they must go without aid.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake