ASCSU takes on drug policy

Apr 112007
Authors: Jen Cintora

Associated Students of CSU introduced legislation Wednesday night that opposes a federal law prohibiting convicted drug offenders from receiving financial aid.

Resolution 3626, endorsed by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, encourages the university to process students’ aid applications without penalization for previous drug conditions.

“As an organization, we’re trying to raise awareness of an issue that a lot of students don’t know about,” said Brooke Malcolm, a SSDP advocate. “Students don’t realize it could happen until it happens to them.”

The measure opposes withholding financial aid – federal grants, scholarships and work study – from students who admit to a conviction or don’t answer the question, “Do you have any drug-related convictions?” on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

All students seeking federal and state financial aid, as well as some university and private scholarships and grants, must submit a FAFSA.

Under its current policy, students can have federal and state assistance denied or revoked if they receive a drug-related conviction. In Colorado, possessing less than an ounce of marijuana is considered a petty offense and does not qualify as a drug-related conviction.

But anything above that could have consequences for students dependent on financial aid.

This creates an additional flaw in the system, supporters say. Since the question of past convictions is the only non-financial one in the FAFSA, students with other offenses, like robbery or even rape, can potentially receive aid without question.

“I think the policy needs to be equal,” said Taylor Smoot, a senator for the College of Liberal Arts. “If students are going to be penalized for drug abuse and not for having a history of assault, I think that’s unequal and unconstitutional.”

Although Colorado has no statute explicitly excluding drug-convicted students from aid eligibility, the university follows federal guidelines for need-based awards, which ultimately prevent these students from receiving both state and federal funds.

The policy has affected students nationwide since the implementation of the 1998 Aid Elimination Act – the federal law in question. Since 2000, about 2,500 Colorado college students and 200,000 students have been denied assistance as result of the act, Malcolm said.

U.S. House Resolution 1184, first introduced in 2005, seeks to repeal the Aid Elimination Act.

The ASCSU measure resonates with some students who say pot shouldn’t determine one’s eligibility for financial aid.

“I think our society has a lot bigger issues than marijuana,” said Karissa Ciarlelli, a senior technical journalism major. “It is unfair judgment.”

Senior reporter Emily Polak contributed to this report.

Staff writer Jen Cintora can be reached at news@collegian.

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