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As 4/20 nears, CU students looking to storm the Norlin quad in defiance of drug laws might be risking more than just possible run-ins with the law.
Since the inception of a little-known statutory revision to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in 2001, almost 2,500 Colorado college students have been declared ineligible for federal assistance because of drug convictions. Because Colorado uses the FAFSA as a filter for its own state-funded aid, any student with a drug conviction on record is also denied aid from the state.
“The drug convictions question is highly political. If you notice on FAFSA, it doesn’t ask you if you’ve been convicted of any other felonies, like murder or sexual assault, just drugs,” said Gaile Walich, a financial aid officer at the Office of Financial Aid.
Walich said that at CU, a school with a reputation for its drug culture, she has found the issue to be of particularly large concern for the students on campus. According to the CU Police Department, arrests for on-campus drug-related offenses totaled 74 for 2005.
“That drug offenses question is pretty stupid. I mean, I don’t do drugs, but what kind of sense is it that I can rob someone at gun point and not lose my financial aid, but if someone smokes some pot, they will?” said Audrey DeBroux, a senior Spanish major.
Joe Aiello, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, explained that the provision was enacted by Congress to aid in the “war on drugs” and was authored by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Indiana. At that time, he said, any student who either answered affirmatively or did not answer the question of having prior drug convictions was rendered ineligible to receive aid.
However, Aiello explained, the provision was amended in 2006 so that only students who had been convicted of a drug-related offense while attending a post-secondary institution and receiving federal financial aid were ineligible after the conviction. Any student found to be ineligible for aid could regain eligibility by attending an approved drug rehabilitation program.
“A lot of students who lose financial aid have to drop out of school,” said Tom Angel, campaigns director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a grassroots organization that lobbies for more moderate drug legislation. “Statistics and common sense tell us that it simply doesn’t make sense to pull students out of school if we want to reduce drug abuse and encourage young people to become successful citizens.”
The group’s Web site states that the provision violates the Constitution’s “double jeopardy” law, which stipulates that no one can be penalized twice for the same crime. The group has teamed with the ACLU in attempts to get the provision repealed.