Every year, about 1,000 students lose some or all of their federal financial aid because they admit to having a conviction for a marijuana or other drug offense. But a Senate bill filed on Friday would change that.
One provision of the bill—which aims to “streamline the financial aid application process” overall—would eliminate a question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) regarding drug convictions. Currently, applicants must answer this question:
“Have you been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, work-study, or loans)?”
In some cases, a “yes” response could mean the difference between going on to graduate or dropping out. Low-income students, who might not be able to afford tuition without federal aid, are particularly impacted.
That’s why a growing number of civil rights, drug reform and higher education groups have called for the question to be removed from the FAFSA. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a coalition of six other senators hope their new bill will achieve that goal.
“We know that when a student completes the federal financial aid form, he or she is more likely to receive aid, attend college, and graduate from college,” Booker said in a press release. “But sadly, less than half of today’s high school students complete the form, and students from underserved backgrounds complete the form at even lower rates than their peers.”
“Our bill would simplify the complicated process in order to reduce barriers to higher learning for students from marginalized populations.”
A similar House bill introduced by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) last year also called for the elimination of the drug conviction eligibility question on the FAFSA.
The “Simplifying Financial Aid for Students Act” would do more than just remove that one question. It would also take steps to simplify the process of determining financial aid eligibility and make the FAFSA available to the young immigrants known as DREAMers, for example.
But the drug conviction question is an important one that’s penalized tens of thousands of students since Congress first enacted the aid ban in 1998. There have been efforts to revise the question so that students don’t automatically lose all of their aid if they self-report a drug conviction, but even a partial loss can derail students on the path to higher education.
“The drug conviction question, which remains on the FAFSA, serves solely as a deterrent to higher education from the students who might benefit from it most: particularly, students of color whose communities have been overpoliced and marginalized by the drug war,” Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told Marijuana Moment.
“We champion any effort to assure students equitable access to education, and look forward to the day when young people who are unlucky enough to be caught using drugs are not punished for the same behavior that half of their peers get away with.”
Initial cosponsors of Booker’s financial aid reform bill are Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Doug Jones (D-AL), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Cory Booker Bill Would Let Students With Drug Convictions Keep Financial Aid
Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash
People convicted of federal, nonviolent marijuana offenses or drug possession would have their records automatically sealed under a U.S. House bill introduced Tuesday.
Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) filed the bill—dubbed the Clean Slate Act—which stipulates that criminal records should be sealed exactly one year after a person serves out their sentence, so long as they don’t commit crimes again.
Twenty other representatives have already cosponsored the legislation, including Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
“At the time of sentencing of a covered individual for a conviction pursuant to section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act or of any Federal nonviolent offense involving marijuana, the court shall enter an order that each record and portion thereof that relates to the offense shall be sealed automatically on the date that is one year after the covered individual fulfills each requirement of the sentence, except that such record shall not be sealed if the individual has been convicted of a subsequent criminal offense.”
The Clean Slate Act is the latest in a string of bills that aim to reform federal drug laws, with a particular emphasis on cannabis.
Though not quite as wide-ranging as bills such as the Marijuana Justice Act introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with a companion House bill from Lee, the primary objective is similar: mitigate the long-term harms of the federal drug war by giving nonviolent offenders a second chance.
As more states have moved to legalize, marijuana-related convictions have fallen demonstrably at the federal level, according to a United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) report released in June. That said, drug crimes still account for the bulk of the federal caseload.
In 2017, about 1,300 federal drug convictions were for “the simple possession of a drug” alone.
If this bill passes, eligible individuals who have previously served out their sentence would be able to submit a petition to a U.S. district court in order to get their records cleaned.
The bill also requires district courts to keep track of things like how many petitions are granted or rejected—information that would be included in a public report.
While a growing majority of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal, an even larger percentage of the population (73 percent) believes that criminal records should be automatically sealed for individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses, according to a 2018 report from the Center for American Progress.
Via Center for American Progress
“The Clean Slate Act is important legislation that would ease the burden felt by those unjustly suffering the collateral consequences resulting from cannabis prohibition,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment.
“Individuals saddled with a marijuana possession conviction are disproportionately either people of color or at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, and it is essential that they are not held back from being able to obtain employment, housing, access to higher education, and all of the other necessities of being an active participant in their community. Having been arrested for mere marijuana possession does not make one a bad person, but rather a victim of a cruel public policy.”
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
New Congressional Bill Would Automatically Seal Marijuana Records