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. Importantly, it also extends a 2014 pilot program for hemp until 2022—a win for stakeholders who have been concerned about its expiration.
Meanwhile, a series of reports attached to the legislation contain discussion of hemp and CBD regulations and adding questions about marijuana edibles and flavored vaping products as part of a federal youth drug use survey, among other topics.
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