Dear editorial staff,
Our drug laws and policies obstruct access to education, and thus have an adverse impact on our generation. Our country’s current approach to drug use, abuse, and addiction stems from a mentality that there is no second chance when it comes to drinking and drug use. This is the zero tolerance mentality, and one of its most recent incarnations is an amendment to the Higher Education Act that denies federal financial aid to anyone convicted of a drug-related offense, no matter how minor. The amendment has adversely affected more than 200,000 students to date.
West Chester University Students for Sensible Drug Policy sees education as essential to the development of a productive, successful society. Indeed, Congress enacted the Higher Education Act to encourage an increase in educational opportunities available to all students, particularly those from families of modest means who cannot afford the costs of college. The Drug Provision of the HEA obstructs the path to education. It distorts the act’s important, noble intentions.
As the Drug Provision obstructs the path to education, it steers students who have used, abused, or been addicted to drugs into a cycle of failure and recidivism. Offenders without any access to education are much more likely to continue to commit crime than those who receive some schooling. If our country wants to reduce drug use, abuse, addiction, and crime, we cannot deny drug offenders the opportunity of education. Drug abuse and addiction are serious problems our country must tackle, but blocking education to those trying to break a cycle of addiction is an inappropriate response. Pulling at-risk students out of school makes it more difficult for them to turn their lives around and succeed.
Moreover, the Drug Provision is particularly damaging in its discriminatory impact. It impacts only the students from families of modest means who cannot afford the high costs of college. Students from wealthy families need not worry about a loss of aid; they generally do not qualify for aid in the first place.
Additionally, the Drug Provision has a disparate impact on communities of color. For example, African-Americans constitute 13 percent of our population and 13 percent of drug users, but 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 59 percent of those convicted. This higher conviction rate translates into a higher ineligibility rate for aid.
West Chester University Students for Sensible Drug Policy wants to reduce the harms associated with drug use, but our experiences and perspective have taught us that a punitive policy is not a true, real solution. Unfortunately, the mentality that students who use, abuse, or are addicted to drugs do not deserve a second chance tends to breed policies that place punishment above education, treatment, and rehabilitation. Our organization sees prohibition as an attack on education and an attack on youth. The government has held education hostage to the politics of prohibition. Yet, we will continue to speak truth to the harms of prohibition. We will educate our peers, parents, teachers, and legislators until our drug laws and policies are sensible and compassionate, and we ask for the assistance of The Quad in doing so.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy