Congressional Funding Bill Restores Financial Aid For Students With Drug Convictions, And Has Other Marijuana Provisions - Grow Life 420

Congressional Funding Bill Restores Financial Aid For Students With Drug Convictions, And Has Other Marijuana Provisions

December 21, 2020

#KahliBuds #MMJ #CBD #THC

Students would no longer be disqualified from receiving federal financial aid over past drug convictions under a large-scale, bipartisan spending bill introduced in Congress that’s expected to receive floor votes on Monday.

While the main function of the omnibus bill is to keep the government funded through September 2021 and provide assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic, the proposal finally eliminates a question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that prompts students to disclose prior drug offenses.

The new appropriations and COVID relief legislation also contains a number of other cannabis-related provisions such as the extension of a longstanding rider protecting state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference and a ban on Washington, D.C. legalizing recreational sales. Meanwhile, despite a push from the marijuana and financial services industries, it does not contain any language to shield banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by regulators.

For the most part, this bill represents a continuation of past marijuana statutes that have been annually renewed through the appropriations process. But the financial aid reform is a significant victory for advocates who have been working for decades to quash the drug conviction question, which they argue is racially discriminatory and unnecessarily punitive when it comes to access to education.

Buried in the 5,593-page legislation is a subtle and easily overlooked change that doesn’t explicitly reference the FAFSA language. It simply strikes the subsection of the Higher Education Act that sets that drug-related eligibility standard.

Rachel Wissner, co-interim executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), told Marijuana Moment that the group “was founded in 1998 in large part as a response to remove the Aid Elimination Penalty.”

“This amendment has denied federal financial aid to hundreds of thousands of students, particularly burdening students of color from communities marginalized by the War on Drugs,” she said. “Over the last two decades, we have been fighting alongside other drug policy reform and education organizations to scale back the penalty.”

“Now that the penalty has fully been repealed, SSDP looks forward to the opportunity to work with Congress and the new administration on broader drug policy reform that ensure those who have been most harmed by the war on drugs are not left behind,” she added. “We celebrate that Congress has finally accepted that a drug conviction does not mean that someone should be denied access to higher education.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) championed the reform in bipartisan negotiations and said in a press release that “every single person in this country should be able to access and afford a quality higher education—and today we move substantially closer to that goal.”

“I’m incredibly pleased that these students will finally be able to access aid and begin and continue their education,” the senator, who also helped secure language to restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students, said.

Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said that these reforms “represent a major victory for students who have been unfairly deterred from pursuing higher education.”

“No one should be denied access to education because of a criminal record,” he said. “For more than twenty years, these policies have punished students who rely on federal aid to attend college and disproportionately harmed Black and Brown people targeted by drug enforcement.”

Beyond the education policy change, the spending bill also retains language that prevents the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere in state-legal medical cannabis programs. The measure has been part of federal law since 2014 and the new version was updated to add South Dakota to the list of states that are protected since voters there approved a medical marijuana reform initiative last month.

However, negotiators declined to adopt broader language from House-passed appropriations legislation that would have extended those protections to all state and tribal cannabis programs, including those for adult use.

There are a few other disappointments for advocates in the new bill as well. For example, a rider that prevents D.C. from using its local tax dollars to implement retail marijuana sales was kept in the text. The proposal also maintains language stipulating that federal dollars cannot be spent on “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attempted to get that provision nixed through an amendment to spending legislation last year, but the House rejected the proposed reform in a floor vote.

Another setback for reform allies concerns the COVID-19 portions of the omnibus bill. The House on two occasions included in their versions of relief legislation language that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. But despite passing both times, it was not added to the final bicameral bill. And more limited marijuana banking language that the House passed as part of its version of an annual spending bill was also not included.

Additionally, the new large-scale legislation does not make any mention of extending coronavirus relief benefits to the marijuana industry through the Paycheck Protection Program, despite months of industry appeals for fair and equal access to the funds.

A couple of sections of the bill do continue protections for the hemp market, however. They prevent the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere with the hemp pilot program detailed in the 2014 Farm Bill or lawful research into the crop.

Prior to the release of the bill that was negotiated by House and Senate leaders, legislators in the latter chamber released several wide-ranging spending bills and related reports for the 2021 fiscal year that include a variety of provisions related to marijuana and hemp.

Arguably the most consequential provision from the Senate Appropriations Committee criticized a proposed hemp rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that concerned THC limits.

The House version that the chamber approved in July was much more far-reaching. It additionally contained provisions to loosen rules on marijuana business access to banking services, expand cannabis research, regulate the hemp and CBD industries and give D.C. the ability to legalize recreational sales.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

The post Congressional Funding Bill Restores Financial Aid For Students With Drug Convictions, And Has Other Marijuana Provisions appeared first on Marijuana Moment.



Kyle Jaeger, KahliBuds, 420GrowLife

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