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School Drug Testing Has Little Impact, Dept. of Education Finds

A US Department of Education research report released Wednesday suggests that mandatory random drug testing of high school students has a small positive impact in reducing past-month drug use, but has little effect on teens' intentions to use drugs in the future. Nor, the study found, is there any indication that drug testing of athletes and students involved in extracurricular activities has any spillover effect on students not involved in such programs.

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drug testing lab
The Department of Education study surveyed students at 36 high schools that received federal grants to implement drug testing programs. Half the schools had already implemented drug testing, while the other half held off on it until after the study period.

Under a pair of US Supreme Court decisions, school districts were given the okay first to subject student athletes to mandatory random drug tests and later to expand the testable population to include students who engaged in extracurricular activities. Under a federal grant program in place since 2003, the number of school districts subjecting students to the privacy-invading drug tests has increased from about 5% at the beginning of the decade to 14% now.

But the Department of Education study suggests student drug testing has little lasting positive impact. The brightest news for drug testing advocates is that among students in extracurricular activities in schools with such programs, only 16.5% reported past month drug use, compared to 21.9% in schools without drug testing regimes. Also, drug testing programs did not appear to inhibit students from participating in extracurricular activities.

While the presence of drug testing slightly reduced self-reported drug use among students engaged in extracurricular activities, the study found no impact on students not involved in extracurricular activities. In both drug testing and non-drug testing schools, 36% of those students reported using a drug within the past month.

Nor did the presence of drug testing programs have any impact on teens' plans to use drugs in the future. According to the study, 34% of students covered by drug testing reported they "probably will" or "definitely will" use drugs in the next year, compared to 33% of comparable students in schools without drug testing.

The obvious conclusion seems to be that if schools want an effective means of reducing student drug use, mandatory random drug testing isn't it -- it's achieved only modest and temporary reductions in teen drug use, and limited to those achieving teens who least need the help.

Congress: Drug Warrior Rep. Mark Souder Resigns over Affair

Family values crusader and drug war zealot Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) announced Tuesday he was resigning from Congress after admitting to an affair with a female staffer. The bombshell announcement came at a Capitol Hill press conference. (See Souder give his statement here).

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Rep. Souder conceding an amendment that would have limited his financial aid drug penalty to sales convictions, 2009. The amendment was stripped earlier this year as collateral damage in the health care reform battle.
Adding to the irony of the moralizing conservative's downfall, the staffer with whom he had the affair, Tracy Jackson, worked together with him on one of Souder's pet passions: promoting abstinence education. They even created a video in which the pair of them discuss his efforts to promote abstinence. The various copies of that video on YouTube have had more than 100,000 views as of Tuesday night.

"I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff," Souder said in the statement. "In the poisonous environment of Washington, DC, any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain," he said. "I am resigning rather than to put my family through that painful, drawn-out process."

Souder's enthusiasm for the war on drugs led him to the chairmanship of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources from 2001 to 2007, where he used his position to support harsh drug policies. He was, for instance, a staunch foe of medical marijuana and a loud voice against the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendments, which would, if passed, have stopped federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers.

Even before attaining the chairmanship, Souder gained notoriety among drug reformers, educators, and civil libertarians for authoring a provision of the Higher Education Act that denied federal financial assistance to students convicted of a drug law violation, no matter how minor.

Souder's "smoke a joint, lose your federal aid" provision resulted in more than 200,000 students being denied college grants and loans. It also resulted in the formation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which has played a key role in the ongoing Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform. A partial reform -- actually supported by Souder, whether sincerely or out of pressure -- in 2006 rolled back the provision to include only offenses while the student was enrolled in college. A reform this year that would have limited the provision only to drug sales offenses was derailed after the education package it was part of got added to the health care reform bill, getting deleted along with other provisions that Democrats feared could trigger a procedural challenge.

We will skip the schaudenfreude, although Souder richly deserves it, and merely take heart in knowing one of the most poisonous of the cultural conservative drug warriors has taken himself out of the game.

thanks for the memories:

former SSDP executive director Shawn Heller confronts Mark Souder after a financial aid forum in his district, aired on all the local news channels

somewhere in this documentary Mark Souder slams the door on MPP lobbyist Aaron Houston, refusing to discuss medical marijuana

Souder complains about student groups "harassing him across the country"

Feature: Scale-Back of College Aid Drug Penalty Becomes Accidental Casualty in Health Care Battle

Efforts to deepen already existing reforms to the Higher Education Act (HEA) anti-drug provision hit a brick wall during last minute negotiations last month over the health care reform bill, which included the Student Aid and Financial Responsibility Act (SAFRA). The Democratic Senate leadership removed the HEA reform and various other items they feared would not survive Republican procedural challenges the night before the Senate voted on the budgetary reconciliation bill related to the package.

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2002 press conference with 10 members of Congress calling for repeal of the drug provision
That doesn't mean HEA reform is dead this session, but advocates will have to push hard to get it passed. They say they plan to do just that.

The child of congressional drug warrior Rep. Marc Souder (R-IN), the HEA anti-drug provision, also known as the Aid Elimination Penalty, was enacted in 1999. In its first, hard-line version, it barred students with a drug conviction -- no matter how minor -- from receiving federal financial aid for specified periods. More than 200,000 students have been adversely affected by the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty since its inception.

The harsh and punitive measure sparked opposition from students and their supporters and was a key factor in the creation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). It also sparked the creation of the Coalition for HEA Reform (CHEAR), an umbrella group including dozens of higher education, civil rights, and drug reform organizations, which worked Capitol Hill throughout the '00s to lobby for reform. Advocates scored a partial success in 2006, when Congress voted to make the penalty applicable only to drug convictions that occurred while students were enrolled in school and receiving aid.

The reforms included in the SAFRA this year would have gone further toward completely eliminating the Aid Elimination Penalty. Under the measure approved by the House, only students convicted of a drug distribution would have been subject to losing financial aid eligibility. But the section of the bill in which that reform was included got removed as part of a maneuver to include the rest of the legislation -- health care and student combined -- in the reconciliation process, avoiding the need to amass 60 votes.

"The Democrats took out a bunch of stuff at the last minute they didn't think could survive various Senate procedural hurdles," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a key player in CHEAR. "The HEA drug provision was one of many items eliminated -- for reasons that had nothing to do with the issue itself."

"The HEA reform was tucked into the budget reconciliation bill as part of SAFRA," noted Aaron Houston, government affairs director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), another key player in CHEAR. "But under Senate rules, only items that could be shown to produce budget savings were allowed, and our provision costs money, so that was a problem. It would have been subject to a valid point of order on the Senate floor."

But while the HEA aid elimination penalty didn't make the final cut in the reconciliation process, Houston saw positive signs in what did -- and did not -- take place in Congress this year.

"The Republicans could have called for a roll call vote on this provision, they could have tried to call for a roll call vote at the committee level, but they didn't do that," he noted. "As time goes by, I am confident that we are facing an increasingly receptive environment, not because the Republicans have seen the light, but because they are beginning to understand that it is not in their political interest to grandstand on these drug issues. They know it would alienate the Tea Party types, many of whom are fairly libertarian-leaning, and a lot of whom got their start in politics via activism in the Ron Paul campaign. While Republicans used to grandstand on this issue, now they don't see it as politically expedient, and that suggests how much progress we've made," Houston argued.

David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org and one of the principal CHEAR organizers since its founding, also saw positive signs. "The good news is that HEA reform almost passed last week," he said. "And this time we didn't even have to remind members of Congress about the issue; it's part of the agenda, they figured out how much they thought they could achieve politically, and they even deflected Rep. Souder's challenges in committee and on the House floor to do that much. And it was in there until the very last day."

Can that progress be transformed into an actual victory on HEA reform this year? There is still a chance, advocates said.

"The next step is to try to get this in by the end of the Congress," said Houston. "We're still hopeful, but I would be hesitant to say what the vehicle for it would be."

"Obama is talking about how he wants to do another education bill this year before the election," said Piper. "It's mainly about reforming No Child Left Behind, but will also contain some of his other priorities, like the reward program for the states, and they seem pretty serious about pushing that. We're hopeful that we can get HEA reform included in that, and we are contacting members of Congress about that. But at this point, it's far from clear the Democrats can get 60 votes to pass an education bill, with or without HEA reform."

HEA reform came frustratingly close to fruition in last month's health care brouhaha. And a side effect of that battle was to cost HEA reform what would otherwise have been a likely vehicle for passage. Now, all activists can do is grit their teeth and return to the fight. Such are the ways of Washington.

We're Not Giving Up!

Call Congress Today!

Ask your legislators to repeal the harmful Aid Elimination Penalty.

Dear Friends,

Over the past year you all have scored some huge national victories.  Not least among them helping to convince our long-time opponent Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) to scale back the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty that he created over a decade ago.   

As you probably already know, in September 2009, The House of Representatives passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which included language that would repeal the Aid Elimination Penalty for students convicted of drug possession offenses.  

Since we know that many distribution cases are pleaded down to simple possession, this change will reinstate financial aid to a large number of students who would otherwise be affected by Souder's amendment.    

Last week Congress was poised to include the entirety of the SAFRA legislation into the health care reconciliation bill, including our provision. But I have some unfortunate news.  According to the rules of the now famous reconciliation process, amendments that directly change policy, as ours does, are subject to votes that require a 60 percent majority. So, in the eleventh hour, our amendment was taken out of the bill for procedural reasons.   

The good news is that this turn of events does not represent a lack of political will on the part of our allies in Congress . With leading Democrats devoted to changing this horrible provision - and with your letters and phone calls - I still believe we will successfully amend the Aid Elimination Penalty by the end of 2010.  We'll need to keep up the pressure, but I have every confidence that these recent events only delayed our inevitable victory. 

Sincerely, 

Matthew Palevsky

Acting Executive Director

Students for Sensible Drug Policy 

P.S. Do you want SSDP to continue pressuring Congress to ensure financial aid for students?  If so, help us by making a donation today so that we can hire a policy director to keep the pressure on our elected representatives in Washington.

http://www.ssdp.org/donate

Feature: The State of Play -- Federal Drug Reform Legislation in the Congress

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US Capitol, Senate side
Ten months into the Obama administration, drug policy reform in the US Congress is moving along on a number of tracks. Here's an update on some of the more significant legislation moving (or not) on the Hill. With a few exceptions, this report does not deal with funding issues that are tied up in the tangled congressional appropriations process.

Next week Drug War Chronicle will publish a parallel report on the state of play for drug policy in the nation's statehouses.

The Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

After years of inertia, efforts to undo the 100:1 sentencing disparity in federal crack and powder cocaine cases have picked up traction this year. In July, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and 83 cosponsors introduced the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act, which would eliminate the disparity by treating all cocaine offenses as if they were powder cocaine offenses for sentencing purposes. That bill has passed the House Judiciary Committee and is now before the Energy and Commerce Committee. On the Senate side, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced companion legislation, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, last month. It is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Federal Needle Exchange Funding Ban

The longstanding ban on the use of federal AIDS grant funds to pay for needle exchange programs may soon be history. Although the Obama administration left the ban in its budget request, Obama pledged to eliminate it during his campaign, and his administration has signaled it wouldn't mind seeing it go. The House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies stripped out the ban language in a July 10 vote. A week later, the full Appropriations Committee approved the bill after voting down an amendment proposed by US Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX) that would have reinstated the funding ban, but accepted a poison pill amendment that would ban federally-funded needle exchange from operating "within 1,000 feet of a public or private day care center, elementary school, vocational school, secondary school, college, junior college, or university, or any public swimming pool, park, playground, video arcade, or youth center, or an event sponsored by any such entity." The House later passed the appropriations bill with the 1000-foot ban intact, but defeated a floor amendment by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) to reinstate the funding ban.

On the Senate side, the appropriations bill has yet to be passed, but the Senate committee working on the issue did not include language ending the funding ban. Reform advocates are hoping that the Senate will come on board for ending the ban in conference committee, and that committee members also strip out the 1000-foot provision.

The National Criminal Justice Commission

Introduced in March by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 would create a commission that would have 18 months to do a top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system and come back with concrete, wide-ranging reforms to address the nation's sky-high incarceration rate, respond to international and domestic gang violence, and restructure the county's approach to drug policy. The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where this week it was set to hear a raft of hostile amendments from Republican members. It currently has 34 cosponsors, including Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Restoring College Aid to Students with Drug Convictions

The infamous Higher Education Act (HEA) anti-drug provision, or "Aid Elimination Penalty," which bars students committing drug offenses from receiving financial aid for specified periods of time, is under fresh assault. In September, the US House of Representatives approved H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), one of the provisions of which restricts the penalty to those convicted of drug sales, not mere drug possession. The bill will next go to a conference committee, whose job will be to produce a reconciled version of H.R. 3221 and a yet-to-be-passed Senate bill. The final version must then be reapproved by both the House and the Senate. If that final version contains the same or very similar language, it will mark the second significant reduction of the penalty, the decade-old handiwork of arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). In 2006, the provision was scaled back to include only drug convictions that occurred while students were enrolled in college and receiving financial aid (a change supported by Souder himself). Souder opposed this year's possible change.

Medical Marijuana

Late last month, Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) reintroduced H.R. 3939, the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow defendants in federal medical marijuana prosecutions to use medical evidence in their defense -- a right they do not have under current federal law. The bill currently has 28 cosponsors and has been endorsed by more than three dozen advocacy, health, and civil liberties organizations. It is before the House Judiciary Committee.

That isn't the only medical marijuana bill pending. In June, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Medical Marijuana Protection Act, which would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug and eliminate federal authority to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. The measure has 29 cosponsors and has been sitting in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce ever since. Frank introduced similar legislation in the last two Congresses, but the bills never got a committee vote or even a hearing. Advocates hoped that with a Democratically-controlled Congress and a president who has at least given lip service to medical marijuana, Congress this year would prove to be friendlier ground, but that hasn't proven to be the case so far.

In July, the House passed the District of Columbia appropriations bill and in so doing removed an 11-year-old amendment barring the District from implementing the medical marijuana law approved by voters in 1998. Known as the Barr amendment after then Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), the amendment has been attacked by both medical marijuana and DC home rule advocates for years as an unconscionable intrusion into District affairs. The Senate has yet to act. Among the proponents for removing the Barr amendment: Bob Barr.

Marijuana Decriminalization

In June, Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Personal Use of Marijuana By Responsible Adults Act, which would remove federal criminal penalties for the possession of less than 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) and for the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce. The bill would not change marijuana's status as a Schedule I controlled substance, would not change federal laws banning the growing, sale, and import and export of marijuana, and would not undo state laws prohibiting marijuana. It currently has nine cosponsors and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

And just so you don't get the mistaken idea that the era of drug war zealotry on the Hill is completely in the past, there is Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL). In June, Kirk introduced the High Potency Marijuana Sentencing Enhancement Act, which would increase penalties for marijuana offenses if the THC level is above 15%. Taking a page from the British tabloids, Kirk complained that high-potency "Kush" was turning his suburban Chicago constituents into "zombies." Nearly six months later, Kirk's bill has exactly zero cosponsors and has been sent to die in the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

Industrial Hemp

Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) again introduced an industrial hemp bill this year. HR 1866, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009would remove restrictions on the cultivation of non-psychoactive industrial hemp. They were joined by a bipartisan group of nine cosponsors, a number which has since grown to 18. The bill was referred to the House Energy and Commerce and House Judiciary committees upon introduction. Six weeks later, Judiciary referred it to its Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, where it has languished ever since.

Safe and Drug-Free Schools Funding

In May, the Obama administration compiled a budgetary hit list of 121 programs it recommended by cut or completely eliminated, including $295 million for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools community grants program. (It left intact funding for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools National Program). Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees agreed with the White House and zeroed out the program. The House education appropriations bill has already passed, but the Senate bill is still in process. Proponents of the program may still try to reinstate it in the Senate or during the conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate appropriations bills.

Next week, look for a report on drug policy-related doings in the various state legislatures.

Higher Education: House Passes Student Loan Bill With Further Limitations on Drug Warrior "Aid Elimination Penalty"

The infamous Higher Education Act (HEA) anti-drug provision, or "Aid Elimination Penalty," which bars students committing drug offenses from receiving financial aid for specified periods of time, took a step toward further dilution this week when the US House of Representatives Thursday approved H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA). In the passed bill is language that restricts the penalty to those convicted of drug sales, not mere drug possession.

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Mark Souder conceding the amendment
The bill will next go to a conference committee, whose job will be to produce a reconciled version of H.R. 3221 and a yet-to-be-passed Senate bill. The final version must then be reapproved by both the House and the Senate. If that final version contains the same or very similar language, it will mark the second significant reduction of the penalty, the decade-old handiwork of arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). In 2006, the provision was scaled back to include only drug convictions that occurred while students were enrolled in college and receiving financial aid (a change supported by Souder himself).

The House victory came only after Souder attempted and finally gave up a last ditch effort to undo the reform. The Indiana conservative first submitted an amendment to strip out the new language in the Education & Labor committee where the bill originated earlier this year, a vote which he lost. This week, he submitted the amendment as the bill came up for a vote on the House floor, but then withdrew it after Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) suggested compromise language that would limit the provision's effect to felony drug convictions instead of drug sales convictions.

That compromise language came too late to be included in the House floor vote Thursday. It would presumably be offered up during conference committee.

But that wasn't the only reason Souder withdrew his amendment. As he conceded in a House speech Thursday, "I was probably going to lose today."

More than 200,000 students have already lost financial aid under the Souder aid elimination penalty because of drug convictions. Passage of SAFRA, with either the sales conviction language or the felony conviction language, would reduce the pool of students who would potentially be victimized by it. It's not full repeal, but it's another step closer.

A Victory in the House of Representatives

Update: Souder concession speech -- "... I was probably going to lose today." It's an interesting glimpse into the prohibitionist mindset. Today the US House of Representatives passed a student loan bill that includes language limiting the infamous "Aid Elimination Penalty" -- a law stripping students of financial aid because of drug convictions -- to include only sales convictions, not possession. The law was previously limited to offenses committed while attending school and receiving federal financial aid. If the Senate follows suit, on this reform or something similar, it will be limited yet again. Yesterday we alerted our members that Rep. Mark Souder, the author of the law, was planning to offer an amendment on the House floor to strip out the language and keep his law the way it is now. Souder withdrew the amendment before it came to a vote. Check back at Drug War Chronicle for further info tonight or tomorrow. It's not a done deal until it passes the Senate, until it survives the conference committee, and then until the larger bill it is part of passes both chambers of Congress in its final form. But things are looking good. We including me personally have been working on this for 11 years, and this is a big day for us. Thank you to everyone who took action, this week or before, to help make this possible.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

ALERT: Crucial Vote on Souder's Law Happening Tomorrow -- YOUR PHONE CALLS NEEDED!

Update: We won. Dear friend: Our nemesis in Congress, arch-drug warrior Mark Souder, is at it again. Earlier this year, the House Education & Labor Committee passed a student aid bill including language to scale back his infamous financial aid/drug conviction law. The new version of the law would only count sales convictions -- a great step forward, though we still want full repeal. More than 200,000 students already have lost aid for college because of drug convictions. Tomorrow, we're told, Rep. Souder will offer an amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives, seeking to have this good language stripped from the final version of the bill. PLEASE CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE AND ASK THAT HE OR SHE VOTE NO ON SOUDER'S AMENDMENT TO THE STUDENT AID BILL. Students should not lose access to college because of drug possession convictions! The bill is called SAFRA, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, H.R. 3221. To reach your Representative (or find out who your Rep is), call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. When the receptionist in your representative's office answers the phone, politely say something like the following:
"My name is _____ and I'd like Rep. ___ to vote against Rep. Souder's amendment to the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which would deny educational opportunities to students with minor drug possession convictions. Blocking access to education causes more drug problems and hurts the economy. Thank you."
When you're done, please forward this alert to all your friends, and please post it to sites like Facebook and Twitter too. A copy of this alert can be found at http://stopthedrugwar.org/alerts/college_aid. Also, please send us a note letting us know that you've taken action and if the staffer you spoke with told you anything that sounds important. Visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com for further information on this issue and the hundreds of organizations that support repeal. Thank you for taking action! Please consider making a donation to support these efforts. Sincerely, David Borden, Executive Director StoptheDrugWar.org Washington, DC http://stopthedrugwar.org P.S. Find StoptheDrugWar.org on Facebook here and here, and on Twitter here.

Advocacy Anti-patterns

Software developers study anti-patterns. The practice can be applied to advocating social change, i.e. fighting the drug war.

Inspired by some of the comments I've read here, I've begun observing and cataloging some common anti-patterns I find amongst those of us struggling to end, or at least mitigate the harms inflicted by, drug prohibition. My first post describes the apathy of despair anti-pattern, and touches on the apathy of denial pattern one often finds in our opponents. The entire post can be read here. I welcome your comments. www.glenstark.net

Financial Aid: House Committee Lightens Up on Students with Drug Possession Convictions

For a decade, a law authored by Indiana Republican Rep. Mark Souder has been an obstacle to higher education for people with drug records. The Higher Education Act (HEA) anti-drug provision, known more recently as the "Aid Elimination Penalty," barred students with drug offenses from receiving financial aid for specified periods of time.

Under pressure from students, educators, and others in a growing coalition to repeal the provision, Souder himself supported a partial reform in 2006 that restricted the provision's reach to those convicted of drug offenses while in school, and further changes in 2008 to help motivated students regain their eligibility early. Still, pressure to repeal it completely remained.

Now, with Democrats firmly in control of the Congress, the provision is once again undergoing scrutiny. On Tuesday, the House Education and Labor Committee voted to further shrink the provision's impact by limiting it only to students who are convicted of selling drugs, not those convicted simply of drug possession.

The vote came as part of broader legislation reforming the student loan system. That legislation must still pass the House and the Senate before the reform takes place. The committee turned back an amendment by Souder to strip the language reforming the drug provision by a vote of 20-27.

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