Pubdate: Fri, 26 Oct 2007
Source: Triangle, The (Drexel U, PA Edu)
Copyright: 2007 The Triangle
Author: Rachel Cabamongan
Cited: Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)


Students who are on financial aid and are caught smoking marijuana
could see their federal assistance go up in smoke.

The Higher Education Act was established in 1965 to provide
educational resources for college students through financial aid
programs. In 1998, a revision was added to the act to include a drug
provision that has since denied or delayed financial aid to 200,000
potential aid recipients because of drug convictions. The drug
provision was added to the act as a means of creating a no-tolerance
for drug-use atmosphere at college campuses nationwide.

University of Hawaii Financial Aid Director Linda Clemons explained
that question 31 on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
exposes drug offenders by asking them if they have ever been convicted
of "possessing or selling illegal drugs" while receiving federal
student aid. If the applicant responds "yes," then they are required
to fill out an additional worksheet to determine if and when they can
resume eligibility.

She added that if a student receives a drug conviction during the
school year while receiving financial aid, they must immediately
notify their financial aid office and the balance awarded must be returned.

"If they knowingly or willingly provide misleading information, they
can be fined $20,000, sent to prison or more," Clemons said.

The law does not affect students with drug convictions prior to
receiving financial aid.

"I think it is messed up that a minor offense like having a small
amount of weed can screw up your financial aid eligibility," said
sophomore Russell Sasaki. "So many students do it that you can almost
say it is a part of college life."

Junior Michael Okinaga feels differently.

"I believe that it is right to take away financial aid from a student
who does or sells weed, because it is illegal. I think financial aid
should be given to hard-working students since not all students are
lucky enough to receive it," Okinaga said.

The Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization comprised of
international students who advocate the impact of drug abuse and fight
against counterproductive drug-war policies, is actively pursuing
Congress to overturn the drug provision. The organization feels that
this law targets lower-income households because of income
requirements to receive federal aid.

Applicants who are denied or have their financial aid taken away have
no alternatives to pay for their education, increasing the risk of
dropping out of college and turning to drugs further, said the

Tom Angell, government relations director for the Students for
Sensible Drug Policy, said the law unfairly penalizes students by
taking away financial aid when they have already paid the consequences
of drug use through legal conviction. He added that while drug
offenses can cause federal aid to be denied, there is no such law for
violent offenses such as rape or murder.

"The law only puts this student eligibility restriction on convictions
related to drug offenses," said Department of Education official Chris
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