Denial of Student Aid For Possession of Controlled Substances (Including Marijuana)

20 U.S.C. § 1091 entitled “Student Eligibility” contains a laundry list of federal regulations and requirements for receiving federal student aid for college. 

Subsection (r) was enacted in 1998 as part of the “Higher Education Amendments” (no pun intended, apparently). In 2006 the statute was rewritten (or clarified) to show that it is intended only to apply to students who are currently receiving federal financial aid.  Marijuana is classified as a controlled substance for purposes of this law.

The chart below (included in the statute itself) describes the time periods that students are ineligible for, if convicted of possession of a controlled substance:

20 U.S.C. § 1091 (r) Suspension of eligibility for drug-related offenses

(1) In general

A student who has been convicted of any offense under any Federal or State law involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance shall not be eligible to receive any grant, loan, or work assistance under this subchapter and part C of subchapter I of chapter 34 of title 42 during the period beginning on the date of such conviction and ending after the interval specified in the following table:

If convicted of an offense involving:


The possession of a controlled substance:

Ineligibility period is:

First offense

1 year

Second offense

2 years

Third offense



The sale of a controlled substance:

Ineligibility period is:

First offense

2 years

Second offense


(2) Rehabilitation

A student whose eligibility has been suspended under paragraph (1) may resume eligibility before the end of the ineligibility period determined under such paragraph if—

    (A) the student satisfactorily completes a drug rehabilitation program that—

        (i) complies with such criteria as the Secretary shall prescribe in regulations for purposes of this paragraph; and

        (ii) includes two unannounced drug tests; or

        (B) the conviction is reversed, set aside, or otherwise rendered nugatory.

The Department of Education has also released a Student Aid Eligibilty Worksheet for folks to use to see whether or not they are eligible for Federal Aid based on their criminal history.

I tell all of my Travis County clients attending one of the many universities and colleges in Austin about these provisions, and why it is even more imperative that we find a creative way (such as pre-trial diversion) to try to get their case dismissed, if at all possible.  Fortunately, I've generally found the prosecutors in Austin to be at least willing to listen to my equitable arguments as to why my client should not be convicted of a simple possession case (yes, even if they may in fact be guilty).

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Cristian - November 1, 2012 12:33 AM

Sigh, growing up ruins a lot of great eeeartninmtnt. When I watched this as a kid, Kingsfield was amazing, but when you run into people like that in real life, they're kind of tools. They sometimes have the power to back up the attitude, but they rarely have the skills.(Then again, I guess that's good experience for you trial lawyers, huh?)On the other hand, I still fondly remember my Inorganic Chemistry professor, who could do a great imitation of Kingsfield. Mister Draughn. You come in here. With a skull full of mush. And you leave. Thinking like a chemist.

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