Drug use may limit aid

A rising number of marijuana arrests in the U.S. may put marijuana-using students at greater risk of being denied financial aid, according to the non-profit Students for Sensible Drug Policy, but many AU students do not know about the legal provision which mandates this.

According to a 1998 provision of the Higher Education Act, federal financial aid is to be revoked for a minimum of one year on the first charge of drug possession and can be suspended indefinitely after the third charge.

Some students say they are concerned that the drug provision isn't widely known. Though question 31 on the FAFSA form asks about previous drug convictions, it does not say that a student's financial aid will be revoked or suspended.

"I had no idea [about the provision]," said Christy Washington, a junior in the School of International Service. "I don't think they should take aid away altogether on the first charge. Maybe something more like a probation period."

Police arrested a record high of 786,545 people for marijuana violations in 2005, according to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report, released Sept. 19. Of those arrested, 88 percent were charged with possession only.

These figures could be bad news for students who depend on federal aid to attend college. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, 40 percent of those arrested for marijuana violations in 2002 were between the ages of 18 and 24.

"The consequences of an arrest don't end with handcuffs and jail cells," said Kris Krane, executive director of SSDP. "A drug conviction can follow young people for the rest of their lives by taking away their financial aid and making it harder to get jobs."

According to the Department of Education, 63 percent of American college students rely on federal financial aid. Many of these students cannot afford a university education without financial help and are forced to drop out if aid is revoked, said Tom Angell, campaigns director for SSDP.

AU public safety filed 50 judicial referrals for drug abuse violations on campus in 2005, according to the Public Safety's 2006 Annual Security Report. A judicial referral is sent through the Judicial Affairs office and won't necessarily result in a federal charge, said Sara Waldron, associate dean of students.

"A referral would become part of [a student's] disciplinary record on campus," she said. "It wouldn't involve an outside process."

Though being caught on campus might not pose much threat to financial aid, the Higher Education Act drug provision still puts many students in danger of losing a college education, said AU SSDP chapter President Tazewell Jones.

"In addition to creating a network of informed activists on campus, AU SSDP is also concerned with the rights of all young people, including the right to a decent education," Jones said.

Concerned students can make an impact on a congressional decision to repeal the provision, Angell said.

"As far as making this issue more prominent, there's a lot [students] can do," he said. "Contact legislators. Go to the media."

In November, SSDP is bringing activists to D.C. for its 2006 International Conference, Angell said. The conference will feature a Congressional Lobby Day, where activists will be given a chance to speak with their representatives directly about repealing the drug provision.

"Students need to become actively involved in the decision making process," said Jones. "It is our hope that AU students will recognize the importance of civic participation, and use [the conference as an] opportunity to enact a positive influence on the governmental process."

SSDP recently established its presence on the AU campus and will be holding its first recruitment meeting within the next few weeks, Jones said. Interested students can contact Jones at wj9861a@american.edu or visit www.ssdp.org.

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