Pubdate: Tue, 06 Feb 2007
Source: Montana Kaimin (U of MT Edu)
Copyright: 2007 Montana Kaimin
Author: Jessica Mayrer
Bookmark: (Youth)
Bookmark: (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)


One night of smoking pot can have lasting consequences on your 
education. Get convicted of drug possession while enrolled in school, 
and your federal financial aid will be taken away.

"Drug convictions are the only convictions that will cause you to 
lose financial aid," said Kris Krane, executive director of Students 
for Sensible Drug Policy.

Since Congress enacted the "Aid Elimination Act"  in 1998, students 
who apply for federal financial aid are required to disclose drug 
convictions when filling out their FAFSAs.

Depending on the nature and time of their arrest, a student with a 
drug conviction can lose eligibility for all federal financial aid -- 
including Pell Grants and Stafford loans -- for a period of a year or more.

This law has made at least 200,000 students nationwide ineligible for 
aid since the law went into effect, Krane said. And because the law 
discourages some students from even applying for aid, "actually the 
numbers are quite a bit higher than that,"  he said.

But not everyone thinks that's a bad thing.

"Drugs add nothing to the academic experience,"  said Ron Brunell, 
director of Residence Life at UM. Brunell said he saw between 12 to 
14 students last semester alone receive criminal drug convictions.

"It's almost exclusively pot,"  Brunell said.

People are all required to live with the laws or to change them, he said.

In February of last year the Aid Elimination Law was scaled back. Now 
it only applies to students convicted of drug crimes while enrolled 
in school. Before the change, it didn't matter whether drug offenders 
were enrolled or not at the time of their conviction, they could 
still be ineligible for future aid.

The new change isn't enough, Krane said. Essentially, under this law 
offenders are punished twice. That violates the Fifth Amendment, he said.

Krane said this law unfairly impacts poor students. For many, 
financial aid is the only way to pay for a college degree.

"Clearly there is a class bias,"  Krane said.

But Mick Hanson, UMa€TMs financial aid director, said it is students 
from middle class families, not the poor kids, who most frequently 
get in trouble.

Jim Lemcke, director of UM's Office of Public Safety, said that 
students who cooperate are sometimes cited only for possession of 
drug paraphernalia, not for drug possession, so they don't lose their 
financial aid.

There are two reasons to write a drug citation, Lemcke said, to 
punish behavior or to alter it.

"If we can do that without affecting their financial aid, great," he said.

But Krane said the law should be overturned.

"This penalty is unconstitutional,"  Krane said.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Kranea€TMs Washington-based 
advocacy group, joined with the American Civil Liberties Union last 
year in an attempt to overturn the aid elimination law. The groups 
argued that the law violates the Fifth Amendment's protection against 
"double jeopardy,"  or being tried twice for the same crime.

The case, SSDP v. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, was 
dismissed in October by the U.S. District Court of South Dakota. In 
dismissing the case, the court said the law a€oeis not retribution,a€ 
but instead seeks to discourage drug use on campuses. The court also 
cited the fact that students could later be eligible for financial aid.

The SSDP and the ACLU plan on appealing the case, Krane said.

UMa's financial aid office recommends that students fill out FAFSAs 
before the Feb. 15 priority filing date.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman