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Congressional Bill Would Let Some Students With Marijuana Convictions Keep Financial Aid

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A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill on Friday that would protect college students from losing federal financial aid if they receive a marijuana possession conviction. But it also stipulates that the student must complete a drug rehabilitation program to maintain eligibility.

Under current law, students with drug convictions can be stripped of financial assistance for a period ranging from one year to indefinitely, depending on what type of offense it is and how many prior convictions they’ve had.

The new legislation, sponsored by Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Gwen Moore (D-WI), is titled the “Second Chance for Students Act.” Students convicted of first-time cannabis possession without intent to distribute would continue to receive financial aid if they enroll in an approved rehabilitation program and complete it within six months.

“One mistake shouldn’t mean the end of a student’s education,” Foster said in a press release. “For many students, financial aid can mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out. This legislation would ensure that students stay in school while they complete the required rehabilitation program. No student should have their future determined by one bad choice.”

Moore noted that existing law puts students at risk of losing aid if they’re caught possessing any amount of cannabis. That consequences can be “devastating and often determines whether one can remain in school,” she said.

“This policy harms students of color, who are often targeted for low-level offenses like marijuana possession,” the congresswoman said. “It’s why I am thrilled to support this bill because a marijuana conviction shouldn’t jeopardize a students’ future or access to educational opportunity.”

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and Reps. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) are also cosponsors of the legislation.

However, some advocates feel the proposal, while well-intentioned, perpetuates a stigma where marijuana consumption is automatically treated as a substance use disorder that requires rehabilitation.

“Those arrested for minor marijuana possession do not need to be treated as substance abusers and should not be legislated as such,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “The intent of protecting students is admirable, however the senseless assumptions it projects upon cannabis consumers is reefer madness.”

Dom Coronel, who sits on the board of directors for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told Marijuana Moment that the organization “was first founded to remove unjust financial aid barriers for students.”

“Withholding financial aid unfairly targets low income people and disproportionately harms students of color,” Coronel, whose own cannabis possession charge left him unable to pay for tuition and living expenses, said. “I support the ‘Give Students a Second Chance Act’ because it would positively impact many lives and save students from losing their financial aid or dropping out.”

But the group said that while the legislation “is a step in the right direction” and “restores opportunity to those students caught with cannabis, offering an evidence-based drug education program instead of unnecessary coerced drug treatment is crucial to consider.”

Foster introduced similar bills in 2016 and 2017, with the latter effort garnering 12 cosponsors, but neither were scheduled for hearings or votes.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another Democratic presidential hopeful, filed legislation in May that similarly seeks to prevent students from being denied financial aid for low-level drug convictions. But by removing a question on the federal financial aid application that asks whether a student has received a conviction for possessing or selling illicit drugs entirely, his bill would provide protections for a much broader class of students, without mandating drug treatment.

The legislation would also repeal the core penalty that takes aid from students with convictions for marijuana or other controlled substances.

Read text of Foster’s bill to restore aid to some students with marijuana convictions below:

Foster bill on marijuana po… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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