Minor drug offenses should not result in aid cuts

Adam Tannenbaum, Staff Writer

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Students should not receive penalties to their federal financial aid for a few minor drug infractions, as long as they do not repeat the same offense multiple times. Young people that are convicted of a few minor drug infractions, while being held accountable, should not be chastised for small mistakes. Instead of punishing students who are convicted of petty drug possession, it would be much more appropriate to encourage these kids to keep on pursuing their degree by providing them with student aid under certain conditions. This money will enable students to stay on a steady path while completing their studies instead of being thrown out into the real world because they could no longer afford to stay in college.

Currently, if a student who is receiving financial aid is convicted of any federal or state drug conviction, even something as small as possession of a soft drug (like marijuana or psilocybin mushrooms), it is counted against a student’s financial aid if they were receiving aid at the time of conviction. In certain instances students might also be obliged to give some of their financial aid back to the government.

Lawmakers do deserve credit where credit is due and steps have been taken in recent years to allow students who were convicted of up to two minor drug infractions to redeem their federal aid through good behavior. In 2009 the Obama Administration changed the policy that previously made students ineligible for any federal aid if they had been convicted of one minor drug offense. The administration developed a “three strikes” policy that allows a student with two or less offenses to potentially receive federal aid again pending good behavior. Under three strikes, if a student is convicted of possession with illegal drugs, they lose one year of aid for their first offense, two years of aid for their second offense and are indefinitely ineligible for aid after their third offense along with having to pay previous federal aid money they received after the conviction to the government.

While this new law goes a long way from the pre-2009 federal aid policy in regards to students that had committed minor drug offenses, students should have the opportunity to receive federal aid money again immediately after their first or second conviction instead of having to wait one or two years. This would enable students who could not afford to continue school without the assistance of federal aid to correct poor habits while at the same time working toward a degree that would help improve that student’s life, thinking ability and vocational skill set. Under this policy, students would have the opportunity to keep moving their lives in the right direction while trying to amend unhealthy habits.

I believe it would be correct to continue with the current policy if a student was convicted for a third time with possession of illegal drugs while receiving student aid. In that situation, the student would end up owing the government all the money received in aid since their first conviction. This would incentivize students to correct poor habits by knowing that if they did not they would face serious financial consequences.

Rather than taking a college education away from young people, this policy would allow students who committed petty drug offenses to keep moving in the right direction, without having to take time off from school because they could no longer afford tuition. These students should continue to be given second chances to correct previous behavior and continue to develop skills that will help them improve their future income prospects and provide hope of a prosperous life ahead. Otherwise, the federal aid system is just pushing uneducated young adults into the workforce, perhaps even enabling them up to continue committing drug offenses.

Adam is a senior in the A.B. Freeman School of Business. He can be reached at [email protected].

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