The 1980s campaign, “Just Say No” to drugs obviously hasn”t had the effect lawmakers thought it would. Along with D.A.R.E. and other campaigns, government anti-drug messages on the whole have been utter failures, with drug use continuing to be relatively common for young people. And under the Higher Education Act of 1998, those who get caught with drugs are penalized for their youthful indiscretions through loss of federal aid. Even simple possession is grounds for loss of Pell Grants, loans and other forms of aid. This law, like other aspects of the War on Drugs, is harmful to society because it does not deter drug use, punishes those who cannot afford college and marginalizes already disadvantaged areas of the population by keeping them out of college.
This is a preposterous and hypocritical way to punish someone for a youthful oversight. Many politicians have all but admitted to using drugs in their past, so why should they have the right to remove aid from those who need it most? The law is clearly biased in favor of wealthy white suburbanites who have a better chance of affording college without any government support than those from lower socio-economic classes who would almost certainly rely on federal aid to receive a college education.
Under the Higher Education Act, first-time offenders may be ineligible for federal aid for up to one year and a second offense adds a year on to the first. A third offense permanently denies aid to the offender, who most likely has not harmed himself or others in committing this non-violent crime.
Simply because a person chooses to experiment with drugs does not mean that they should be stripped of opportunities to learn. Poorer students and minorities are victimized by the negative affects of this act much more than their privileged counterparts, who are more likely to avoid the legal repercussions of drug use. In addition to having better lawyers, wealthier drug users are less likely to express need for federal aid. This act underhandedly segregates disadvantaged students from expensive university education. It punishes the students who need college most to improve their positions and achieve the benefits education provides.
Experimenting with marijuana, which is arguably less dangerous than alcohol, could jeopardize an individual”s entire future. At the same time people convicted of a minor in possession offense for being intoxicated or possessing alcohol are not punished by this act.
For the last seven months that the law has been in effect, more than 1,000 students each month lost access to federal aid. This includes Pell Grants, student loans and work-study programs, which are often necessary to survive rising tuition costs. Education is expensive and this harshly classist law will only worsen the situation while, like most other anti-drug measure, deter virtually no one from drug use.
A revision of the Higher Education Act is necessary. Many intelligent people are being denied their only chance at a college education because lawmakers are oblivious to the ineffectual nature of their attempts at curtailing drug use. Education should not be a casualty of the War on Drugs.