Even though cannabis has been legalized in some form in the majority of U.S. states, decades of federal prohibition have left millions of Americans saddled with criminal convictions for smoking, selling, or even possessing weed. The presence of a cannabis conviction on one's criminal record, no matter how minor the offense, can permanently block access to housing, employment, and education.
In 1998, the federal government began denying financial assistance to any student that was convicted for using or selling drugs while receiving federal aid. Every year since, around 1,000 students have had their financial aid fully or partially revoked because of a drug charge, according to Marijuana Moment.
Last Friday, Sen. Cory Booker and six other Democratic Senators proposed a new bill, the Simplifying Financial Aid for Students Act, to strip away some of these impediments to higher education. Among other things, the bill would remove a question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that asks: “Have you been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, work-study, or loans)?” The removal of this question would effectively prevent government officials from denying students’ financial aid due to a prior indiscretion.
The new bill is not just about cannabis reform, but contains a number of provisions to make it easier for lower-income students to apply for federal aid. The bill would help low-income students receive a federal Pell Grant, as well as easing the application process for homeless and foster youth. Additionally, the bill would make financial aid available to undocumented immigrant students and make the application process less demanding for non-native English speakers.
“We know that when a student completes the federal financial aid form, he or she is more likely to receive aid, attend college, and graduate from college,” Booker said in a statement. “But sadly, less than half of today’s high school students complete the form, and students from underserved backgrounds complete the form at even lower rates than their peers. We must make the process of obtaining aid for higher education easier.”
Removing the roadblocks standing between low-level drug offenders and higher education is not only good for the individual students, but can also work to help the cannabis industry as a whole. The legal market is just getting off the ground in many states, but it is growing exponentially every year, offering a wide range of opportunities to bright young innovators. Many traditional college degrees ranging from chemistry to law to business are entirely applicable to this new industry, and several colleges are now starting programs specifically tailored for those wishing to enter the legal weed business.
By making it easier for lower-income students to receive federal aid, this new bill would help ensure that these opportunities are equally available to students from all walks of life. And by removing the question regarding drug offenses from the application, the bill would also help ensure that a prior marijuana offense does not block an aspirational young student from a college degree or potential career in the cannabis industry.
h/t Marijuana Moment