A student wakes atop a mountain of beer cans and brushes cocaine powder out of his beard. What a crazy Tuesday night that was! A cloud of marijuana smoke follows him to the mailbox. With syringe-tracked fingers he fumbles to open an envelope containing his taxpayer-subsidized financial aid check. Of course, most drug users are at least somewhat responsible and don’t live their lives constantly high. It is also unlikely that a significant portion of federal financial aid money goes toward student-run meth labs or drug cartels. Regardless, it is reasonable to expect that students receiving federal financial aid make the most of their education. Using illegal drugs contradicts this simple expectation.
The Higher Education Act, which was recently amended to be more lenient, bars students from receiving federal financial aid if they are convicted of possessing illegal drugs. This does not include infractions made before college, and aid is only pulled indefinitely after the third offense. While this may adversely affect drug users who honestly want to better themselves and are in need of higher education, the truth is that most heavy drug users are poor students. Little sympathy should be afforded to those who squander the generosity of others at a time when financial aid is in such high demand, as the Daily recently suggested (Your financial aid on drugs, 02/16/2006).
Current implementation of the act is flawed, however, because it does not make the distinction between marijuana and other illegal drugs. While this argument will not delve into the legalization debate, marijuana and cocaine simply cannot be compared. The only possible (and hypothetical) type of exception might be a student caught growing 40 kilos of marijuana in his dorm room and selling it to a 12-year-old. He probably should lose his aid, since that does constitute a felony. Also, cultivating that much marijuana is very time-consuming and leaves little time for study.
In a perfect world, anyone would be able to afford a college education. But realistically, many prospective yet underprivileged students are unable to pay for college, and many of them will not receive the federal aid they need. It is a disservice to the taxpayer and the greater good to fund the “education” of a heavy drug user when there are far more dedicated and legitimate candidates who will never receive the same opportunity.
Gavin Stern is an LSA sophomore and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.