June 1, 2000
House Committee Approves Amendments To Higher Education Act
DC: Last Thursday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
passed two amendments to provisions in the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1998,
the law that currently disallows federal financial aid packages to students
convicted on drug charges.
In a minor victory for students, the committee approved an amendment to suspend financial aid to students only if they are convicted while receiving aid. The current law calls for the loss of aid for any conviction, regardless if the person was in college or not when the conviction occurred. A first time drug conviction, if the student is currently receiving aid, will still be met with a one year suspension of financial aid. A second conviction will result in two years with no financial aid and after a third conviction, the student will be ineligible to receive financial aid.
The second committee-approved amendment to the HEA is much more damaging. The amendment directs the Department of Education to treat students who fail to answer the drug question on their financial aid forms as ineligible until the question is answered. This year, the Department of Education instructed universities to presume the half million students who left this question blank on their financial aid forms have no drug convictions. The Department of Education has also told universities that they will not be independently verifying the honesty of the students who answered the question. About 3,000 students this year have affirmed on their financial aid forms that they have been convicted of a drug offense.
During the hearing, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced an amendment in the committee to strike the drug provision entirely from the HEA. It was defeated by a 31-16 vote.
"Those who have been convicted of minor drug crimes should not be restricted from college loans when we don't restrict rapists and armed robbers," Scott said. "It would seem that getting users into college would reduce drug use. We are fighting a philosophical battle as to whether we will reduce crime rationally or with slogans and rhetoric."
"Despite the best efforts of Rep. Scott and other fair-minded politicians, Congress appears intent on passing more wasteful and destructive legislation to punish marijuana smokers," said Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director. "Hopefully, once the public fully understands the excessive scope of this mean-spirited HEA provision, they will demand that Congress eliminate this provision."
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director at (202) 483-8751.
U.S. Customs Urges Congress To Allow Searches Of Out-Of-Country Mail
DC: In an effort to curb drug trafficking through the mail, the United
States Customs Service is asking Congress to pass legislation which would allow
the agency to search all mail leaving the United States.
Last Friday, at a hearing titled "Drugs in the Mail: How Can It Be Stopped," held by the House Committee on Government Reform's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, the United States Postal Service testified in opposition to the proposal, citing Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. No bill has yet been introduced in the House.
"For over two centuries, the American public has had an expectation of privacy in their mail," said Kenneth Newman, the Postal Service's deputy chief inspector for criminal investigations. "[W]hen considering Fourth Amendment protection against warrantless searches, mail is in a special category ... and is entitled to the same protection accorded a person's home. This requires probable cause and a federal search warrant to seize and open mail."
"The Postal Service is to be commended for standing up to the heavy hand of the Customs Service," said Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director. "I would suggest they send Customs a copy of the Fourth Amendment, which they apparently have never read."
NORML asks citizens who oppose this obvious violation of the Fourth Amendment to contact members of the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources. A list of subcommittee members is available online at www.house.gov/reform/cj/members.htm.
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director at (202) 483-5500.
Dueling Court Orders Shut Down Annual Weedstock Festival
WI: The 12th annual Memorial Day weekend Weedstock festival was shut
down last Friday by police, and 12 arrests were made, including the festival's
organizer, Ben Masel.
Earlier in the day Masel had obtained a court order prohibiting Sauk County Sheriff Randy Stammen from arresting the festival-goers for unlawful assembly. Stammen subsequently procured a court order from another county judge ordering the festival be shut down because Masel had failed to get a permit under a recently adopted county ordinance restricting outdoor events to no more than 1,000 people.
Masel, along with the 11 others arrested, was charged with contempt of court for violating the order.
"We intend to vigorously litigate the right of freedom of assembly in this case," said Masel's attorney, Jeff Scott Olson, Esq., of Madison, WI. "We believe that all of the county's actions have been taken on the strength of an unconstitutional ordinance."
For more information, please contact Jeff Scott Olson, Esq., at (608) 283-6001.
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