Student Loans and Drug Offenses

Under the Drug-Free Student Loan Act (DFSLA), even a misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction can affect a student’s eligibility to receive federal student grants or loans under 20 U.S.C. § 1091(r). Although recent changes to the law have softened the consequences somewhat, the loss of student aid can be an unwelcome surprise to unwary student defendants and their parents.

Disqualifying Offenses

Students are not disqualified for possession offenses that occur prior to college. The Dept. of Education currently interprets the law to apply only to offenses that occur while a student is enrolled. Therefore, if the offense occurs during a period of non-enrollment, like the summer, it is likely that the offense will not render the student ineligible for aid, even if the student is convicted during the school year.

Although the law applies to the loss of federal student aid, convictions under both state and federal law will result in a disqualification. Further, both federal and state judges could stipulate denial of federal benefits, including student aid, to a defendant convicted of drug trafficking, even if the offense occurred during a period of non-enrollment.

Periods of Ineligibility

For first-time possessory offenses, including marijuana misdemeanors, the statute imposes a minimum financial aid ineligibility period of one year. For first-time distribution-related offenses, the minimum period is two years. These periods may be extended beyond any minimum period due to characteristics specific to the offender and his or her offense. Recidivists face life-long ineligibility for student aid. (Ineligibility is suspended “indefinitely” for a third possessory offense, and a second distribution offense).

If convicted of an offense involving the possession of a controlled substance…
Offense Ineligibility period
First 1 year
Second 2 years
Third Indefinite
If convicted of an offense involving the sale of a controlled substance…
Offense Ineligibility period
First 2 year
Second Indefinite

Regaining Eligibility

Students who have their conviction set aside, successfully complete a drug rehabilitation program and/or pass two unannounced drug tests given at an approved rehabilitation facility, are ostensibly eligible to reapply for financial aid or may have the period of ineligibility shortened. But, as a practical matter, because of the way federal student aid is disbursed, even short-term disqualification could result in the loss of student aid for one semester, if not the entire academic year. Thus, a drug conviction for a student may be, at minimum, educationally disruptive.

In addition to student loan disqualification, drug convictions can result in many other unforeseen consequences for university students. These include school disciplinary actions, disqualification from certain degree programs like health care, ROTC scholarship eligibility, and graduate school admission. Further, many state and federal jobs require fingerprint card or security clearances, so a student’s career choices may be limited due to the conviction. For this reason, it is important to seek the advice of an attorney who understands all of the potential consequences university students may face if they are convicted of a drug offense.