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Will Congress alter its stance toward drug crimes and financial aid?

For college students throughout Florida and across much of the nation, the primary concerns at the moment are likely keeping up with the syllabus, earning good marks on exams, managing a work-study schedule and, of course, making plans for the upcoming spring break.

While it's true that the life of a college student seems fairly stress-free to those of us outside of academia, the reality is that all this can change in a heartbeat if a young person makes a mistake and ends up with a drug conviction on their criminal record.

How exactly can a drug conviction end up harming a college student?

In addition to possible criminal consequences and disciplinary measures being taken by their academic institution, a college student with a drug conviction may be left with serious questions about their ability to fund their education going forward.

That's because federal law dictates that students applying for federal financial aid must answer a question as to whether they have ever been convicted of selling or possessing illegal narcotics while receiving monetary assistance. If they answer in the affirmative or even fail to answer the question, the federal government can -- and will -- rescind federal financial aid, including loans, work study and grants.

Do college students have options for reinstating their eligibility?

Successfully passing sanctioned drug tests and/or completing a drug rehabilitation program can result in reinstatement of eligibility for federal financial aid. However, these steps can prove to be time-consuming, disruptive to the course of learning and expensive.

Does this restriction apply largely to those college students convicted of serious drug offenses?

The restrictions on federal aid eligibility apply even to those convicted of minor drug offenses. Indeed, a student convicted for first-offense marijuana possession could potentially lose access to federal financial aid for up to one year.

Are lawmakers prepared to do anything to rectify this harsh stance?

In recognition of the fact that these restrictions on eligibility for federal financial aid are a relic from the failed war on drugs, a bipartisan group of senators, headed by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Bob Casey (D-PA), have introduced what is known as the Stopping Unfair Collateral Consequences from Ending Student Success Act, or SUCCESS Act.

If passed, the SUCCESS Act would 1) repeal the language otherwise disqualifying college students from federal student aid for a drug conviction and 2) eliminate the drug conviction inquiry from the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

It remains to be seen whether the SUCCESS Act will gain the necessary traction in Congress to become law.

In the meantime, those young people who are under investigation or have been formally charged with any sort of drug offense should understand that the consequences of a conviction can go far beyond jail time and fines. At the Law Offices of Horwitz & Citro, P.A., we are prepared to guide you through these difficult times, protecting your rights, your freedom and your future.