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Congressional Bill Would Protect Students From Losing Financial Aid Over Drug Convictions

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Students with drug convictions would no longer have to worry about being denied or losing federal financial aid under a bill introduced on Tuesday.

Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Danny Davis (D-IL) filed the legislation, titled the Financial Aid Fairness for Students Act, or FAFSA Act. It would repeal a law that renders students ineligible for federal loans, grants and work-study assistance if they’ve been convicted of possessing or selling drugs.

The lawmakers said under the “findings” section of the bill that because the drug war has disproportionately impacted low-income and minority communities, those groups are most impacted by the education policy, which has discouraged students from even applying for financial aid and thus impedes opportunities to graduate and attain well-paid jobs.

Text of the bill states that empowering disadvantaged communities to attain higher education “is critical to reversing decades of exclusionary policies that have adversely impacted people of color” and that because “criminal sentencing laws in the United States disproportionately impact racial minorities and low-income communities, the Aid Elimination Penalty may disproportionately hinder these same groups from accessing Federal financial aid.”

“Recognizing that an educated citizenry is the powerhouse of the nation, that higher education allows Americans to access well-paying jobs, healthcare, strong interpersonal relationships and a higher quality of life, the Federal Government should incentivize the pursuit of higher education while ensuring equality of opportunity.”

Besides repealing the anti-drug penalty itself, the legislation would add a section stipulating that the Secretary of Education could not add any question “about the conviction of an applicant for the possession or sale of illegal drugs” on the federal financial aid application.

“Mounting student loan debt is a crisis in our country,” Bass said in a press release. “As we rethink the War on Drugs and the convictions and prison sentences that came with it, we must address all aspects that impacted our communities.”

“We should be doing everything we can to break down these barriers. Each of us here in Congress owe it to our constituents to assist in every way we can, which is why I’ve introduced legislation to eliminate barriers preventing people with a drug conviction from being able to receive federal financial aid,” she said. “Investing in a person’s education is perhaps the best investment we can make to ensure our young people succeed.”

The FAFSA Act currently has 32 cosponsors, including Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Don Young (R-AK), Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).

“We commend Representatives Bass and Davis for addressing one of the barriers to education for people with drug convictions by ensuring that they can continue to receive funding for their education,” Students for Sensible Drug Policy Executive Director Betty Aldworth told Marijuana Moment. “Evidence shows that investing in young people’s education is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and chaotic drug use, and making that education available to as many people as possible will strengthen our communities.”

“We urge Congress to pass the FAFSA Act quickly so we can work toward repairing the harms of the War on Drugs, especially those that unfairly target minority and low-income populations,” she said.

Davis, a chief sponsor, said that education “promotes economic well-being and labor force participation.”

“Excluding individuals who have struggled with addiction from financial assistance is an ineffective policy that has harmed tens of thousands of students,” he said. “This policy unfairly targets poor and minority students and costs society more in terms of crime and lost economic productivity. Repealing this penalty is a smart, cost-effective investment of taxpayer dollars, and I will advocate for its inclusion in any reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.”

The bill is similar in intent but more far reaching compared to one introduced in July that would protect students from losing financial aid if they were caught possessing marijuana, as long as there was no distribution element. That legislation would also require the student to complete a drug rehabilitation program to maintain eligibility.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also called for eliminating the drug question from federal financial aid applications as part of legislation he filed in May to streamline the application process.

Read the FAFSA Act below:

FAFSA Act by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Marijuana Arrests Increased Again Last Year Despite More States Legalizing, FBI Data Shows

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

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

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Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate

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A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.

But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.

The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.

The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.

“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”

As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.

“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”

“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”

The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”

Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.

All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”

The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”

“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.

“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”

In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.

Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:

Industry SAFE Senate Bankin… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Senate Leadership Letter Re… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Senators Demand Update From DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform

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A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”

“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.

Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”

Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.

The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.

Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).

Senators Demand Update From DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications

Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally

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The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.

“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

MLB Officially Removes Marijuana From Banned Substances List For Baseball Players

Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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