The Bush administration has begun enforcing a law that denies federal financial aid to college students with drug convictions. In the past, thousands of students simply didn’t answer a question about drug offenses on their forms and got aid just the same. Now if they don’t answer, the application will be rejected.
The law says that anyone convicted of possession or sale of a controlled substance “shall not be eligible to receive any grant, loan, or work assistance.” The ban runs from one year for a first count of possession to two years for a second offense. A third offense makes the ban indefinite. First sale brings a two-year ban, with an indefinite ban for a repeat offense.
According to Brian Gralnick of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, on requests for this current school year over 270,000 of the 10 million applicants left the question blank. Only 8900 applicants reported disqualifying convictions and lost some or all of their aid. But because of new enforcement, some 14,000 people have had their assistance pulled. Gralnick predicts that number may swell to 70,000, hurting disadvantaged kids most.
“We feel this law is discriminatory against the poor, who need financial aid,” Gralnick said. “And it’s also discriminatory toward African Americans, who we know are targets of the drug war more so than the whites. . . . I believe that the war on drugs is nothing more than the war on youth.”
James Ridgeway’s complete Mondo Washington column this week.