Students with prior drug convictions are no longer excluded from obtaining federal student aid under a recently approved congressional appropriation package. Although the main goal of this bill is to keep the government appropriately funded, with these unprecedented times we are facing because of COVID19, it creates challenges. Provisions strike a 1998 law, subsection of the Higher Education Act, which previously made students check a box stating if they have had any prior drug convictions. This check mark would exclude many from gaining the aid they may have needed in order to further their education.
In a statement made to Marijuana Movement, co-interim executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) said, “Now that the penalty has fully been repealed, SSDP looks forward to the opportunity to work with Congress and the new administration on broader drug policy reform that ensure those who have been most harmed by the war on drugs are not left behind.” She made it clear in her statements that the old legislation made it particularly difficult for individuals in marginalized communities to receive a higher education where it is arguably needed most.
The passage of this bill also gives incarcerated individuals the opportunity to apply for federal Pell grants for the first time since 1994. Activists and politicians alike are hailing this step toward drug reform, Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said that these changes, “represent a major victory for students who have been unfairly deterred from pursuing higher education.” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) actively played a role in developing the language for the reform stated in a press release that, “every single person in this country should be able to access and afford a quality higher education—and today we move substantially closer to that goal.”