New drug policy is unfair, hard to enforce

Starting with the 2000-01 federal financial-aid applications, students could be penalized for past drug convictions. This plan is a faulty solution to a much larger problem.
In 1998, a restriction was passed through amendments to the Higher Education Act that denies financial aid to students with drug-related offenses. The measure will be enforced for the first time next year. Students will be required to answer questions on the application regarding any past drug convictions.
Students convicted of drug-possession charges will be denied federal aid for one year, while those convicted of selling drugs will be denied aid for two years. Indefinite ineligibility occurs after a third drug-possession conviction or a second drug-selling offense. This policy has two major problems.
The first problem is enforcement. Because the process relies on self-reporting, many students probably will not admit their past convictions. According to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, “the United States has no comprehensive federal database to check, (making) the rule … difficult to enforce.” The only way to verify this information is to check the sentencing reports sent to the Justice Department by some judges or if schools take the responsibility for catching students and report it to the DOE. Many offenders will slip through the cracks while honest students are penalized.
These methods make too much work for the DOE. The department already has an enormous amount of applications to process each year. This measure can only cause a delay in disbursement of funds and an increased workload for department employees.
More importantly, though, the measure unfairly singles out those convicted of drug charges. Erin Sermeus, press secretary for Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., said, “… it creates unequal grounds for students convicted of drug-related crimes compared to those students convicted of other criminal offenses.”
Under the new policy, an individual caught smoking marijuana will be denied funds, while a convicted rapist could continue to receive federal money. This discrepancy in no way is an accurate reflection of the harm done by any particular criminal. People who smoke marijuana and are unlucky enough to get caught are not hurting anyone but themselves. On the other hand, a thief or murderer clearly damages the lives of those surrounding them. To only penalize the drug user is morally bankrupt.
The federal government’s main concern should be that the student aid money is being spent on someone who is taking advantage of the educational opportunities. If an aid recipient is having drug problems, their grades will likely reflect that activity, and their aid will be cut off.
Grades are easy to monitor and reflect fairly on all individuals. Using grades as a determinant for aid also allows those who have turned their life around a way to finance their education.
The DOE should not be in the business of deciding which crimes are heinous enough to require the elimination of federal tuition money. Instead, it should focus on providing money in a fair manner that ensures money is going to those who are able to learn in a college environment and who would not be able to finance attendance without the aid of federal funds.