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Drug possession remains a hurdle to federal financial aid

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Last September, I blogged about efforts in the United States House of Representatives to eliminate bars to federal financial aid for simple drug possession convictions. My recent check on Congress’s Thomas website showed that the measure passed the House of Representatives and was referred to a Senate Committee, but the information stopped there, so I assumed the measure died or went into suspended animation, unless it got incorporated into a different bill. Google searches and visits to the websites of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Drug Policy Alliance, and NORML did not reveal whether or not the measure has become law (and nor do those organizations have an obligation to post the information, but I post it here as a result of not finding the answer elsewhere).

This is a question that is important to many of my clients, so I double-checked with the NORML lawyers’ email listserv to verify whether this measure had not become law yet. Thanks to the two listserve members who replied yes, that drug possession has not yet been removed from the bars to federal financial aid, even though that is not the answer I wanted to hear.

Thanks to the listserv member who also pointed out the following: Drug paraphernalia convictions do not bar federal financial aid, nor do such case dispositions as suspended imposition of sentence that result in no conviction; those alternative dispositions are a negotiation tool available when representing students charged with drug possession or distribution who are federal financial aid recipients. The listserv member also pointed out that a drug manufacturing conviction will not bar federal financial aid, which certainly sounds like an unintended loophole, in part when considering that manufacturing requires possession. However, the direct and collateral consequences of a manufacturing conviction likely are much worse than those for getting a fine for possessing marijuana, even where a possession conviction means a loss of federal financial aid.

By Jon Katz, a criminal defense and DWI defense lawyer practicing in Fairfax County, Virginia, and beyond. 301-495-7755. https://katzjustice.com.