Marijuana legalization is good for Portland and good for students.
Marijuana penalties are notoriously harsh on most anyone, but they’re especially hard on students. More than 85 percent of first-time students at USM receive some kind of financial aid; college is expensive and almost necessary to secure a well-paying job in the 21st century.
Here’s where the federal government, through the means of local enforcement, specifically targets needy college students. If you are a well-off college student convicted of marijuana possession who does not need to apply for financial aid, you can apply to a school, enroll and graduate. Should you, like the vast majority of students, need financial aid to fund your education and get caught using cannabis, you are disqualified from financial aid.
A common misconception of the FAFSA drug disqualification provision is that the disqualification clause is in respect to the criminal charge associated with the drug use, not the drug use itself. This notion is untrue.
In existence since the 1960s, Federal Student Aid only had the drug charge restriction introduced by Congress in 1999, as part of the “War on Drugs.”
To put things in perspective, possession of up to 1.25 ounces of cannabis in Maine is punished with a $200 to $400 fine, a civil violation just like a speeding ticket. This conviction is enough to disqualify a student from federal aid. In chilling contrast, a sexual offender, after completing any required jail time and community service is not necessarily disqualified from federal aid.
Despite politicians casting students who use cannabis as degenerate drug addicts, the moral failure rests with the government’s perverse order of priorities.
On election day, Portland residents have the opportunity to take a deliberate step in the right direction. Voters will decide on a proposed ordinance that would completely legalize the private use and possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis.
While marijuana use will still be illegal at the federal and state levels, the ordinance will eliminate a redundant ban on the substance and allow the city of Portland to end needless spending on cannabis enforcement. For students, this means a lower chance of having their privacy violated and their lives ruined by unfair policy. Students have a say in this: don’t miss the opportunity.