I have long felt that the drug laws in this country were ludicrous--a remnant of our puritan roots. But this is just too much.
The HEA Drug Provision denies federal financial assistance to any student with a drug conviction, even for simple marijuana possession. Since taking effect in 1998, over 160,500 students have had their aid denied or delayed as a result of this law, and countless others have simply failed to apply for aid because of their convictions. At the same time, it is illegal to deny financial aid based on any other criminal conviction, including murder, rape, or aggravated assault.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. What the hell is the thinking behind this? Worse, from what I have been reading lately, there are lots of other instances where we treat minor drug users far worse than we treat rapists, murderers, and pedophiles. Where's the moral outrage of the religious right when you really need it? Oh, that's right, they're too busy assailing the dangers of gay marriage.

Why are drugs illegal in the first place? And I'm asking as someone who's never done a single drug and never will. I just don't see why I should give a shit if anyone else does. Why can't we treat drugs like alcohol? As long as you don't endanger anyone else or disturb the peace, go ahead and riddle your body with holes. But don't come crying to me for help when you're unemployable or burdened with astronomical health bills. We all make choices in life, some better than others, and we need to be made to accept the consequences of our actions.

On a related note, as ridiculous as I think it is that we deny financial aide to drug users but not rapists, I think we ought to scrap the entire aid system altogether. And this is coming from someone who has a great many student loans to pay back, so I recognize I'm on shaky ground here. But doesn't the vast array of student aid available just raise the price of education? Without aid, Jimmy might not be able to afford Harvard, but since when was Harvard an inalienable right? Let Jimmy band together with all his buddies and work his way through school--maybe starting at a community college. I know I could have gotten by without the aid--but it was there, so I took it. As long as there's a need for education, there'll be institutions ready and willing to meet that need--for a price. Different prices for different people. And there'll always be private scholarships to ensure that those who've worked their asses off can get the higher education they deserve. Bottom line is there's nothing government can due that the private sector can't do better. And the sooner we get government out of the business of our lives, the sooner we can get it to stop moralizing and dictating how we should live our lives. Freedom isn't freedom if you have to trust your government to give it to you.

Well, this isn't turning out to be all that coherent, so I'm going to end it now.


Blogger Class of 1996 Reunion Committee  said...

I haven't been to your site in a while. I like the new look. Since it's been so long, you'll have to forgive me for the extremely long post. Like I mention at the end, this is an extreme generalization and is probably full of inaccuracies, but it gives a good explanation for why drugs are such an important issue to our government. Here's the (very) basic rationale behind the HEA distinction between drugs and other crimes. Crimes such as rape, burglary, assault/battery, etc. are crimes with very distinct and limited victims, basically the person targeted. Also, the perpetrators of these crimes are generally not organized in terms of any criminal enterprise. As a result, the effects of these crimes do not really expand much beyond the perpetrator and the victim(s).

On the other hand, the United States government has been involved in a very serious "war on drugs" for decades. The effects of drug use on our society and economy have been well documented as being something that is not limited strictly to the user and seller of that drug. The user of that small bag of marijuana purchased on the streets of State College, PA and used in some random dorm room on an uneventful Friday night is really just the outer edge of an enormous web. That web, although seemingly innocent at its edges, has many parts as you work your way closer to its middle. We'll use the average college student as the subject of this since most people can relate to being a student who used drugs once or a few times just for fun. Here is how the web looks as you make your way from the outside to the inside:

- The end user: Many students who use drugs generally use them for purely recreational purposes. However others systematically destroy themselves and possibly others around them by abusing the drugs regularly, which causes lower grades, increased legal problems, and overall debt. Usually, one of these three problems (if not a combination) will result in the student dropping out. This results in wasted money by the parents, a likely life-long substance abuse problem which will probably result in other criminal activity, and overall an uneducated citizen.

- The on-campus seller: This person is really just a college student who knows a bigger drug seller. The on-campus seller is himself likely to be the same as an end user, as he probably is not sophisticated and simply is looking to make money selling to his friends. He is a source of drugs on the campus for countless people, thus enabling the problems previously mentioned.

- The mid-level seller: This person is somewhat involved with a drug enterprise. He (or she) gets the drugs and distributes to people like the on-campus seller. He is likely involved in other forms of criminal activity (which may or may not be related to the drugs he sells) and devotes significant time and energy to his work similar to a small business (unlike the on-campus seller). These are your typical "gang-bangers" who commit robbery, rape, etc., and create "bad" sections of towns which results in crime, fear, dilapidated neighborhoods, decreased property values, etc.

- The high-level seller: This entity runs a full-scale drug business. They receive the drugs, package them for individual sale and distribute them to the mid-level seller. This entity is engaged in significant (robbery, rape, murder, etc.) criminal activity which is directly related to the drug enterprise. They are large enough to be noticed and targeted by the local police, but likely small enough to evade federal attention. These are your highly-organized gangs that employ murder as a regular form of self-preservation. They know how to avoid detection by police and are willing to kill to avoid going to prison.

- The distributor: This entity gets the drugs from the manufacturer (likely located in a foreign county) and places them in the hands of the high-level seller. They are targeted by the federal government and are extremely dangerous because of their close ties to the actual manufacturer. They put Customs, FBI, CIA, ATF, and DEA agents at serious risk if confronted. These distributors are the reason why the U.S. government spends billions on the drug war. This money comes from our taxes and, if not needed for the drug war, could be directed to other important needs (possibly even more student financial aid).

- The manufacturer: This entity creates the drugs and gives them to the distributor. They are the cartels in Mexico, Columbia, and other countries that murder citizens, police, judges, politicians, and U.S. government officials. They can afford to do this because their own governments can't/won't stop them.

This is as basic an explanation as I can think of. It certainly isn't the only way drugs affect our society and is likely full of inaccuracies, but you get the overall picture. Why does a rapist get financial assistance while a drug user does not? Because a rapist's act is limited to himself and his victim, whereas a drug user is just the tip of an iceberg the U.S. government has been trying to destroy for decades. It is part of their war on drugs to make drug use so unattractive to our youth that they never engage in it. The HEA and its provision disqualifying convicted drug offenders is just a small part of the battle. It sounds callous to say that a person convicted of drug possession is more detrimental to society than a person convicted of rape, but when you think of all the research done and the "web" effect, it is clear that drugs are connected to far worse activities and problems than other self-contained crimes.

Another effect of drug use is what it leads to. People who burglarize, rape, and murder don't then turn to drugs (they probably already use drugs). But people who only use drugs are much more likely to progress into other crimes such as the ones previously listed. Everybody knows of a "bad neighborhood" near where they live. I challenge anybody to point out a "bad neighborhood" that was not caused in large part by illegal drug use and sales or does not have a serious drug problem now.

Why should we care what other people do to their own bodies as long as it isn't affecting us? Because it is affecting us, whether it's directly or indirectly. I'm not saying that the HEA shouldn't deny financial aid to people who commit rape, murder, aggravated assault, I think it should. I'm simply saying I understand why they deny it to people who commit drug offenses.

So, there it is. Sorry it's so long and poorly organized. As a side note, it's funny that as I'm writing this the South Park episode that is on is about drugs. I wish I would have watched it before I started writing because I could have limited my answer to your question in one sentence just as Cartman did in South Park:

"If you do drugs, you're a hippie, and hippies suck."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005  

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