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.”
Today, I introduced legislation with @RepGwenMoore to give students convicted of minor marijuana possession a second chance. One mistake shouldn’t mean the end of a student’s education. Read more here: https://t.co/yMcjwXAp29
— Bill Foster (@RepBillFoster) July 26, 2019
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.”
Students convicted of possessing marijuana risk losing their federal student aid.
For some, that means losing their education.
— Rep. Gwen Moore (@RepGwenMoore) July 27, 2019
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.”
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:
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording
President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.
“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.
Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote
Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.
The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”
The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.
“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.
The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.
The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.
The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.
Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.
But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.