To answer or not to answer?

By Tyler Vincent

Before we begin this week’s observation, a little note: This column will not address the pros-and-cons of drugs nor will it deal with whether they should be legalized or not. Most of you who are reading this are set in your ways on this topic and nothing this or any column says will change your mind.

What this column will deal with is a drug policy that violates pure common sense. A policy that is counteractive to everything this country desires in a law-abiding citizen. It is something that warrants far more attention than the usual route “Legalize it!” debates. Thus, given the many complexities of this issue, we will conduct our discussion under the premise that drugs are an illegal activity and those that partake of them require punishment.

OK? Now onward.

Picture a young man.

In his formative years he hung around with the “wrong crowd” and, among other things, began using drugs. His academics began to suffer, he got into a little trouble with the law and his life became not unlike that of a junkie.

One day, this man, for whatever reason, including religious inspiration, the intervention of family or friends or otherwise, decides to kick the habit and pursue more socially accepted ways of living. He cleans up, gets a job and decides to go for a college degree.

To help him with this, he will need to apply for financial aid. But according to the Department of Education, he will be unable to receive any funding.

This current round of Dubya nonsense comes in the form of the enforcement of a 1998 ban on collegiate financial aid to those with drug records. The bill was proposed by former congressman Gerald Solomon (R-New York) and was passed in the form of the Higher Education Act, which governs federal financial aid programs — the Bush Administration via the Department of Education

Under the Solomon policy, those applying for financial aid will be subjected to the question: “Have you ever been convicted of selling or possessing drugs?” Answering in the affirmative or not answering at all will result in the rejection of financial aid.

Normally a person like the one mentioned above would be applauded in American society. He would be lauded with comments in the “he picked himself up by the bootstraps” vein. In most other circumstances, people would want this person to get into college and better his chances for an acceptable career.

But this situation is not normal. This is the “war on drugs.” And in the war on drugs, hypocrisy reigns, especially given Dubya’s unwillingness to disclose information on his drug history during last year’s campaign. Time and time again in his various pit stops he referred to his “mistakes” that he made in his youth and his hope that people wouldn’t judge what he did back then as a reflection of who he is now.

How strange indeed, then, that this president, who actively preached that his youthful indiscretions should not hinder him and his career at his current stage of life, should allow active enforcement of the Solomon policy, which would create a situation where other’s “mistakes” would have a direct impact on who they are at their current stage of life. It is also amazing, given his “regret” over the errors of his youth, that he does not seek to overturn this wretched policy.

After all, Bush should be able to sympathize with the plight of the reformed who are trying to better themselves, being that (cocaine rumors aside) he overcame the considerable obstacle of alcoholism to become president, right?

Well, no. The current administration does not want to allow a reformed addict to think he can actually better himself. Let alone a recreational drug user. The liberal pundits online are giving their usual reaction, that this piece of legislation will target poor and African American youths. These observations miss the point. The problem with this policy is the denial of redemption to the offender, regardless of group or race, which is the ultimate sin of the enforcement of this policy.

In cases like these, justice must serve hand in hand with incentive. If society views drug use as harmful and wrong, then it is imperative that the society counteract the negative aspects with positive ones.

In other words, if everything told by the government on drugs is true, then the opposite of the Solomon policy should happen. We should be setting up federal aid for former drug users. What good is encouraging a “druggie” to reform when we give him nothing to reform to?

Even more alarming is the way the policy contracts traditional notions of American justice. Justice gives us punishment to offset the crime. Once that punishment is met by the individual, he or she is “free” both in the literal and physical sense because the person owes no more debt to society.

Under this policy, the punishment continues. The person cannot get into college and thus “mistakes” continue to affect his or her livelihood. And for the former drug user, the penalty to society never will be paid fully.