The devastating impact of the War on Drugs extends to higher education, as students caught with pot face losing out on federal financial aid and often, consequently, on an education. Drug offenses are the only crimes that must be reported on federal student-aid applications, and that’s unlikely to change under a new administration laden with drug warriors.
Christy Billett could be the poster child for exposing the enduring perniciousness of the Drug War’s attack on American college students. Her story also stands as a stark warning about what many students may face under the Trump administration with an Education Department headed by Betsy DeVos and a Justice Department led by Jeff Sessions.
Back in 2000, Billett—then a working-class young woman of 18—was a few courses shy of completing her associate’s degree at DuBois Business College in rural Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, where she was enrolled in a program that would have made her a medical-transcription administrator. But she found herself entrapped in a sting by a friend’s father, a man with cancer who had asked his son to find him a source of marijuana to ease his pain. Billett, who had some pot and occasionally sold some, offered to sell him two ounces, but it turned out he was setting her up. While closing the deal, Billett was arrested and, without an attorney, agreed to make a statement to police. She subsequently hired a lawyer who managed to get the court to change her plea to “no contest,” but the damage was done. A convicted drug felon under Pennsylvania law, when Billett filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in January 2001 to cover her final semester’s tuition, she discovered that she was permanently banned from receiving any federal tuition grants or student loans.