On Friday, a group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill in Congress that would protect some college students from losing their federal financial aid if they are convicted for possessing marijuana. The bill also states that to benefit from this protection, those affected students must complete a rehabilitation program in order to remain eligible for financial aid.
The existing law allows the government to strip students of their federal financial aid for a period that can range from a year to indefinitely based on their prior drugs convictions and the gravity of the drugs offense they have been convicted for.
The bill titled “Second Chance for Students Act” is sponsored by Reps. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Bill Forster (D-IL). Under this proposed legislation, students who are convicted for the first time for possessing marijuana without any intention to distribute the drug can continue to receive financial assistance as long as they enroll for, and complete an approved drugs rehab program in six months.
In a press release, Rep. Forster stated that a single mistake shouldn’t cost a student their education. He added that for many students, their college education is entirely dependent on the federal financial aid that they receive. Discontinuing that aid therefore means that the student’s education, and their future, has taken a huge blow from which they could never recover.
Moore also stated that the existing law harms students of color more than any other demographic group of students since these people are particularly targeted for low-level crimes like cannabis possession.
While the bill has received a lot of support, some critics have argued that it will perpetuate a wrong mentality that people who use marijuana have a disorder for which they need rehabilitation.
Those opposed to the proposed law believe that if it is passed, it will strengthen the stigma against marijuana use and yet advocates are working hard to have the substance legalized. By treating users as people suffering from substance abuse disorder, one unwittingly admits that nobody should be using marijuana.
These critics are more comfortable with a similar draft law which was filed in the Senate by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in May. In that legislation, the question on whether a student applying for federal financial aid has ever been convicted for possessing or selling illegal drugs would be removed from the application form. Consequently, more students would be able to benefit from the protection without being coerced into signing up for drug rehab programs whose effectiveness is questionable.
It would be interesting to hear what advice cannabis industry players like Lexaria Bioscience Corp. (CSE: LXX) (OTCQX: LXRP) and Hemptown USA would have on this matter so that students are protected from lifelong punishment for one mistake they make.
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