Washington, DC: The US Senate voted 51 to 50 yesterday in favor of legislation that would lift the ban on federal aid to students who have a prior, non-violent drug conviction. The Congressional ban, known as the "drug offender exclusionary provision" of the Higher Education Act, has denied federal financial aid to some 175,000 students since its enactment in 1998.
Under the Senate provision, which was included in Senate Bill 1932 (the budget reconciliation bill), students with past drug convictions will now be eligible to apply for federal financial aid. However, students who are convicted of a nonviolent drug offense, including minor marijuana possession, while in college will continue to be stripped of their federal aid eligibility.
President Bush is anticipated to approve the amendment, which would take effect in 2006.
"This partial reform by Congress is long overdue and is a step in the right direction," said NORML board member Chris Mulligan, campaign director for the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR). "Nonviolent, minor marijuana offenders should not be singled out and restricted from receiving college loans over a joint."
Studies have shown that those convicted of crimes are far less likely to be re-arrested after having received two years of postsecondary education, Mulligan noted. By contrast, students forced to leave school after their first year are unlikely to ever complete their education, he said.