(reprinted from the NORML Weekly News, http://www.norml.org)
May 21, 1998, Washington, DC: The House overwhelmingly approved legislation this month denying convicted marijuana offenders from receiving federal student loan assistance. The language, introduced by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) as House Amendment 582 to the Higher Education Programs Authorization Extension Bill (H.R. 6), mandates that "An individual student who has been convicted of any offense under any Federal or State law involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance shall not be eligible to receive any [federal] grant, loan, or work assistance."
NORML National Campus Coordinator Aaron Wilson said that the legislation unfairly punishes marijuana users. "It is outrageous that Congress would pass this law denying financial aid to students for minor non-violent drug offenses, while a felony conviction for a serious violent crime brings no such penalty," he said. "What kind of message is Congress sending?"
Souder's amendment suspends first time drug offenders from receiving student aid for a period of one year. Second time offenders will be ineligible for two years, and multiple repeat offenders will be barred indefinitely. Drug sellers will be ineligible for two years after their first conviction, and indefinitely prohibited from receiving aid upon a second conviction. Students may resume eligibility before the completion of their suspension if they participate in a drug rehabilitation program and pass two random drug tests.
Wilson questioned how fairly the new law would apply to marijuana offenders. "In many states, marijuana possession is decriminalized (a civil violation punishable by payment of a small fine), while in others it's a misdemeanor or a felony. Depending on which state students live in, this legislation may or may not apply to you."
The House approved H.R. 6 by a vote of 414 to 4, far exceeding the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto by President Clinton. The bill now awaits action from the Senate.
For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Aaron Wilson @ (212) 362-1964.