In 1998, the then-newly released version of the Higher Education Act tied marijuana convictions to an automatic loss of federal financial aid for college students. Students caught smoking pot could have their aid suspended for anywhere from a year to forever.
The penalty has since been scaled back, and no longer applies to past convictions. But the law still unfairly penalizes underprivileged students caught with marijuana by stripping them of educational access.
A new bill, introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), would uncouple this penalty from misdemeanor marijuana offenses.
In a statement on the House floor, Blumenauer said that “It is senseless that we would limit a student’s future for any drug offense for which they have served their sentence, and even more senseless that we would do so for an offense for a drug that a majority believes should be legal.”
Over the years, a coalition of education, civil rights, faith, and drug policy groups have pushed Congress to overturn the policy. Some have argued that the it disproportionately hurts people of color, and note that there is no such penalty for students convicted of crimes such as murder, rape, or robbery.
Blumenauer said the penalty is “outdated,” “unfair,” and that it “traps those seeking to recover from mistakes and create opportunities for themselves.”
“Current policy is inevitably more harmful to those with the greatest need,” he said. “If a student has a misdemeanor marijuana offense but is fully able to afford an education on their own, their future is not limited.”
Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley