Law Office of Jack Kotchick

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Minor marijuana convictions leave students with financial woes

A lot of people, especially college students, have a dangerous misconception about so-called "minor drug charges." They mistakenly believe that a misdemeanor marijuana charge or violation that results in a misdemeanor conviction -- without jail time -- is basically not a big issue. 

Even though an UPM (unlawful possession of marijuana) is only a $100 ticket, it is still considered a drug charge. This should not be taken lightly.  This can disqualify students from receiving college financial aid such as Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and other financial aid. This can have enormous impact for college students.

It's actually a very big issue, for students to consider.

Despite the changes in the national attitude toward marijuana use and it's decriminalization in many areas, you can still be arrested and charged for the possession or sale of marijuana in any form -- including edibles. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law -- and the financial ramifications of a conviction for even a misdemeanor possession charge can be immense.

When you complete the application for federal student aid each year -- which controls your ability to receive loans, grants and work-study programs -- you'll be asked if you were previously convicted of a drug charge. If your crime occurred during the period of time that you were already receiving student aid, your ability to receive more aid will be suspended.

This is true even if you are from a state that does not consider marijuana possession to be a crime. Federal law is the controlling authority.

Once your ability to receive financial aid has been put into suspension, you have to go through a drug rehabilitation program, including unannounced drug testing, in order to have the suspension lifted. Your only other choice, short of having the conviction reversed, is to wait the suspension out. If it is your first offense, you lose eligibility for federal aid for a full year. A second offense costs you two years of eligibility. On the third offense, you permanently lose the right to financial aid.

If you consider the collateral consequences of this, you can quickly see how devastating a single conviction for marijuana possession can be. Few families can afford a year of tuition to a university without financial aid. Losing that aid usually means that a student has to drop out of school for at least a year. In addition, you have to start paying on the student loans that you already have the moment you cease to be enrolled as a full-time student.

No matter what the circumstances, any student that is facing a marijuana charge is well-advised to discuss the situation with an attorney as soon as possible. Remember: A plea deal is the same as a conviction.

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Law Office of Jack Kotchick

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