No financial aid for student drug users

Associated Press

Associated Press

Drug-using college students are not entitled to receive financial aid, a federal judge said in dismissing a lawsuit brought by a South Dakotan and two others.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the case earlier this year to challenge a provision of federal law that denies financial aid to convicted drug offenders.

In its class-action lawsuit, the ACLU said the provision is unconstitutional because it punishes people twice for the same crime and creates a class of people deemed unworthy of receiving federal financial aid for college without a good reason.

About 200,000 people nationwide have been denied financial aid since the provision went into effect in 2000, said Tom Angell, campaigns director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy Foundation, which joined the ACLU in the lawsuit.

The complaint lists Margaret Spellings, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, as the defendant.

Kraig Selken, a history major at Northern State University in Aberdeen, is one of three plaintiffs. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge and completed his sentence.

But because of the rule in the Higher Education Act, Selken is no longer eligible for the financial aid he said he needs to complete college.

In dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann wrote that such assistance is not an entitlement.

“Persons convicted of drug trafficking or possession offenses are not a suspect class. … The Constitution affords no right to a higher education,” he concluded. “Likewise, there is no fundamental right to the receipt of federal student financial aid.”

The Department of Education is justified in tying school funding to drug use because it’s intended to deter drug-related crime on college campuses and “prevents taxpayer subsidization of such conduct,” Kornmann said.

Plaintiffs are considering whether to appeal the dismissal, Angell said. “It’s completely irrational to decrease drug abuse by kicking students out of school. That increases drug abuse.”