Pot Smokers Demand to Be Treated Like Murderers

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Today the ACLU and Students for Sensible Drug Policy filed a lawsuit that challenges the federal policy of denying financial aid to college students convicted of drug offenses. The suit argues that the policy, which applies to pot smokers and acid droppers but not muggers and rapists, violates the Fifth Amendment's Double Jeopardy Clause by imposing a second penalty for an already punished offense and its Equal Protection Clause by irrationally treating drug offenders as uniquely unworthy of financial aid.

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  1. I suppose the argument could be made that denial of financial aid may be a disincentive for a high school student to stay off the cheeba, but a person who commits murder is unlikely to be worried about paying for college.

  2. Copypasted from the threadjack below:

    Well, to use ChicagoTom’s logical-looptedoo from yesterday’s “financial abortion” discussion, any punishment is justified by the fact that the person who broke the law knew beforehand what the punishment was, and anything after that was his responsibility.

    These little bastards knew, prior to firing up their “water pipe”, that the penalties included losing financial aid. Therefore, it is a just and fair penalty.

  3. violates the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause by imposing a second penalty for an already punished offense

    Isn’t this exactly the same issue as losing a license for drunk driving? If the gov. deems “federal aid” to be a privilege, not a right, then it can be withheld for any reason, can’t it?

  4. Cunning Linguist:

    I fear you may be correct. The equal protection clause may still apply though.

  5. The point is that the universities are not applying the rules fairly. To say that a pot smoker (Evan definitely needs a toke) should be denied aid but a rapist should not is uneven application of the stricture. Besides, are the universities not arguing that armed forces recruiters are discriminatory? Is this not discriminatory?

    JMJ

  6. a person who commits murder is unlikely to be worried about paying for college.

    …because the dept of corrections will pay for it?

  7. I mentioned this on an earlier thread on this topic: I recently came to the conclusion that the reason drug penalties are so much higher than the penalties for other crimes is because they are political crimes. Any government that establishes a class of political crimes treats political prisoners worse than actual criminals. In China, you’re better off as a murderer or thief than as someone accused of being pro-democracy or a member of Falun Gong. In the old Soviet Union, “real” criminals were far better off than people who criticized the Communist party. And in America, in many ways, you’re better off killing someone that smoking a joint.

    And from the point of view of the government, this even makes an evil sort of sense. After all, if you steal or rape or kill, you are only harming one or two individuals. But if you defy the glorious government, you’re harming society. Nobody looks at a murderer or a rapist and thinks “Hmm, his very existence suggests that my government may be lying to me,” but looking at a non-zombie-rapist pot smoker just might plant a few anti-government seeds in someone’s head.

  8. JMJ:

    I was being facetious—and pointing out the absurdity of arguments that certain people make to justify unfair punishments. I don’t actually believe any of that shit. But, you are correct in one respect: I do need a toke. Shit, it’s only 1:40.

  9. I mentioned this on an earlier thread on this topic: I recently came to the conclusion that the reason drug penalties are so much higher than the penalties for other crimes is because they are political crimes. Any government that establishes a class of political crimes treats political prisoners worse than actual criminals. In China, you’re better off as a murderer or thief than as someone accused of being pro-democracy or a member of Falun Gong. In the old Soviet Union, “real” criminals were far better off than people who criticized the Communist party. And in America, in many ways, you’re better off killing someone that smoking a joint.

    And from the point of view of the government, this even makes an evil sort of sense. After all, if you steal or rape or kill, you are only harming one or two individuals. But if you defy the glorious government, you’re harming society. Nobody looks at a murderer or a rapist and thinks “Hmm, his very existence suggests that my government may be lying to me,” but looking at a non-zombie-rapist pot smoker just might plant a few anti-government seeds in someone’s head.

  10. According to an October 2002 Time/CNN poll, nearly half of Americans (47 percent) have smoked pot at least once.

    Is this then to say that these people deserve no aide?

    Evan states that these people knew of the consequence prior to the firing up that waterpipe. I for one had no knowledge of this law and I can’t imagine that the majority of those affected would have had this knowledge either.

  11. Must be nice Evan, it’s only 10AM here.

    I am not sure how this will play out. If financial aid is considered a privilege then the 5th amendment has little to do with it. The best that could be hoped for is that congress will be told that to make the law comply, anybody convicted of a crime while recieving student aid will lose that aid, regardless of the crime. It won’t make the situation any better but it will be fair and balanced.

  12. These little bastards knew, prior to firing up their “water pipe”, that the penalties included losing financial aid. Therefore, it is a just and fair penalty.

    and pointing out the absurdity of arguments that certain people make to justify unfair punishments

    The only absurdity is how much you are really reaching to try to form some parallel in order to take a shot at me — nice try though.

    The problem isn’t that the gov’t is withholding financial aid to all people with criminal records — that would be much more acceptable / understandable. The problem is that they are treating drug offenders (normally non-violent and victimless) as unworthy of financial aid and treating rapsists, murderers and the like as A-OK. But you knew that already….you were just trying to take a shot at me and make some kind of profound point. Well done!!

    And, based on the parallels you are attempting to draw between this thread and yesterdays “financial abortion” thread, I can safely assume that when you say: arguments that certain people make to justify unfair punishments, you think being forced to support a child that you spawned is an “unfair penalty”. I’m gonna go out and a limb and suggest that most people would not consider a father being told to support their child an”unfair penalty”. In fact, I don’t think most people would consider forcing a father to support his child a penalty at all. But I suppose to someone like yourself, living up to your financial obligations would be punishment.

    Wow, man — I must have really struck a nerve yesterday that you made it a point to attack me on a seperate thread.

    Lucky for me I took my toke before coming to work today 🙂

  13. I havent heard yet of the ACLU actually going up against anything in the WOD. Am I simply an ignoramus or is it really so rare? Should I even entertain the idea that they might in some little way give a damn about the “CL” part?

    Jennifer: That one about the relative penalties for political vs. real sticks in my mind when I think about such matters.

    I also think about the Aztec’s sacrificing people because they believed the sun wouldn’t rise if they didn’t do so.

  14. The point is that the universities are not applying the rules fairly. To say that a pot smoker (Evan definitely needs a toke) should be denied aid but a rapist should not is uneven application of the stricture.

    For an equal protection claim to arise, you’d have to argue that pot smokers and rapists are similarly situated classes of people and that the university could not rationally distinguish between them. No way the plaintiffs are going to be able to argue this. Federal courts require *substantial* similarity in this analysis, and that’s even assuming that a court would recognize pot smokers and rapists as “classes” of people for purpose of constitutional analysis.

    While I think that the financial aid rule is silly, I wouldn’t argue that it violates the Equal Protection Clause.

  15. I like Evan!

    JMJ

  16. The best that could be hoped for is that congress will be told that to make the law comply, anybody convicted of a crime while recieving student aid will lose that aid, regardless of the crime. It won’t make the situation any better but it will be fair and balanced.

    My thoughts exactly.

    Personally, I prefer this outcome rather than just drug offenses. THe more people that could potentially get denied financial aid, the better chance of a stink being raised about it.

  17. I like Evan!

    JMJ

  18. It’s a bad policy, but the argument that it’s unconstitutional is extremely silly. Drug use and murder are entirely different crimes. It’s not discriminatory in any constitutionally relevant sense to treat different crimes differently.

  19. “The only absurdity is how much you are really reaching to try to form some parallel in order to take a shot at me — nice try though.”

    Ha ha, Tom. Nice to see you too. There’s really not a whole lot of reaching to be done—but, hey, knock yourself out trying to distance your illogical assertions from this one.

    “I’m gonna go out and a limb and suggest that most people would not consider a father being told to support their child an”unfair penalty”.

    Look, Tom, unless you want to drag this comment threat to 300+ posts too, I’d suggest that we not dwell any more on this. It was a potshot at you, surely, but I really don’t see any need to rehash that whole episode. All I will say is: someone certainly has the choice to smoke pot; they don’t get to make a choice as to whether or not to get high after they smoke it. This is how it differs. If you fail to see the connection, well, then poor you. Like I said, I didn’t mean for my crack at you to be used as a segway into a continuation of yesterday.

    “Wow, man — I must have really struck a nerve yesterday that you made it a point to attack me on a seperate thread.”

    Struck a nerve? Pshhht. You wish. But when I thought about the common justification for many unfair laws on the books (such as those justifying drug laws), your argument came to mind. You didn’t “strike a nerve” as much as you did “posit a justification that was so absurd as to be permanently tatooed on my brainpiece”. But call it what you want, brotha.

  20. ChicagoTom,
    The only problem is, true crimes are ones with true victims. These are people who society feels should not recieve any aid, much less a college loan. Nobody is going to stick up for the murderer, rapist or thief, or more importantly use thier plight as a reason to remove this law. The reality is that until the laws against consentual crimes are repealed no amount of legal wrangling will make this fair and just but at least it won’t be singling out drug crimes above non-consentual crimes.

  21. Personally, I prefer this outcome rather than just drug offenses. THe more people that could potentially get denied financial aid, the better chance of a stink being raised about it.

    I’m okay with it because reducing the number of people receiving secured federal student loans at below market rates is a good end on its own.

  22. Drug use and murder are entirely different crimes. It’s not discriminatory in any constitutionally relevant sense to treat different crimes differently.

    No, but it might be discriminatory to treat less-severe crimes with more severe penalties. For example: I think everyone agrees that murderers should be treated differently from jaywalkers. But if the jaywalkers face worse penalties than the murderers, that’s when we have a problem.

  23. These are not lifetime bans, except for a three-strikes provision. Is that also “irrational”?

    A convicted murderer or rapist is, hopefully, not going to be in attendance at a college for one year after his conviction. If so, then we have much bigger problems than this law.

    This entire “treating drug users worse than murderers” analytical framework is therefore a red herring.

    Oh, and don’t libertarians oppose all financial aid anyway?

  24. Look, Tom, unless you want to drag this comment threat to 300+ posts too, I’d suggest that we not dwell any more on this. It was a potshot at you, surely, but I really don’t see any need to rehash that whole episode

    It’s funny that you don’t want to “dwell on this anymore”, despite the fact that it is you who was dwelling on it by calling me out and trying to make some kind of valid comparison. (I believe thats called “projection”) I’m not rehashing anything, I am merely pointing out that your logic is flawed. It isn’t a “punishment” to be forced to support your child. It IS a punishment to be denied federal aid based on a drug conviction. Compelling someone to live up to their obligations is different than punishing bad behavior. (Of course, penalizing someone who refuses to pay up after being ordered to would be considered punishment — but thats not really the issue)
    So your potshot isn’t valid, despite what your “brainpiece” may believe.

    But since the crux of your point seems to be that “Evan can take a potshot at other commenters by equating things that arent the same”, I tip my hat to you Evan. You are the man.

    All I will say is: someone certainly has the choice to smoke pot; they don’t get to make a choice as to whether or not to get high after they smoke it. This is how it differs. If you fail to see the connection, well, then poor you.

    Can someone translate this into a coherent statement with a point?

  25. On a supposedly libertarian oriented forum why am I not surprised that no one has even raised the issue that it isn’t the function of government to be providing financial aid for college in the first place.

    Even on libertarian blogs, one should expect to see discussions of issues as they are, and not merely preaching about how things should / would be in “libertopia”.

    Libertarians are not the caricature that you seem to be imagining.

    As someone who doesn’t consider himself a libertarian, what you are criticizing is exactly why I come here. Because most commenters (even Evan), tend to chime in with insightful comments and points of view that aren’t just conventional wisdom, rather than “THE GOVERNMENT SHOULDNT BE DOING X”

  26. Nod,

    I think that is just assumed. However, people here seem less averse to loans than grants.

  27. “It isn’t a “punishment” to be forced to support your child. It IS a punishment to be denied federal aid based on a drug conviction. Compelling someone to live up to their obligations is different than punishing bad behavior. (Of course, penalizing someone who refuses to pay up after being ordered to would be considered punishment — but thats not really the issue)”

    It is the issue, because it is the state using its power to coerce actions at gunpoint to “compel” said responsibility. If the State wasn’t involved, then you’d be right. But it is. The State is not only involved in enforcing said “obligations”, it is also in charge of defining said obligations. Just as it is in charge of defining which infractions cause you to be ineligible for financial aid.

    “Can someone translate this into a coherent statement with a point?”

    Somehow, I knew you’d deny that you drew the connection. Too bad.

  28. I don’t get why, as libertarians, we need to constently give out disclaimers that we don’t support a certain function of government. That should be the default setting. It would be more apt to expect a libertarian to make a disclaimer that they actually do support government program X.

  29. Considering how much of the Bill of Right is being turned into toilet paper on a daily basis, it seems almost silly to worry about our right to toke up and attend school when local yokel SWAT guys can bust in your door without a real warrant anytime they desire. This case is an example of how weak our arguments have become in the face of government abuse of power. …….and a pothead shall lead them.

  30. …Bill of Right is being turned into toilet paper

    Good product ideas. Keep ’em rollin’.

  31. Jennifer: It’s not a simple question of severity. Rapists are worse than reckless drivers, but it makes a whole lot more sense to take away drivers licenses from reckless drivers than rapists. The government can deny education funds on just about any basis it chooses even if it has nothing to do with criminal behavior. If they want to deny funds to drug users because they want to minimize the drug culture on campus, that’s easily rational enough to pass a rational basis test. It takes some serious legislative lunacy to fail a rational basis test.

  32. I knew you’d deny that you drew the connection. Too bad.

    I, too, fail to see the point you’re making where pot-smoking is a choice but getting high afterwards isn’t. And I’ve had first-hand experience there.

  33. If we follow the ACLU’s argument to its logical conclusion, that would mean that restrictions on convicted felons’ voting and possessing firearms (among other things) are also unconstitutional.

  34. 1) There are endless political benefits to be reaped by campaigning on a “tough on drugs” policy.
    2) In conventional political wisdom, there is nothing to be gained by representing the interests of drug users.

    Given these two conditions and sufficient time, drug policy will become stricter and stricter, regardless of constitutionality or even proportionality.

  35. I thinks thats a great idea as long as they also outlaw a cokehead/drunken/business failure/spoiled rich kid to be president.

  36. Evan states that these people knew of the consequence prior to the firing up that waterpipe. I for one had no knowledge of this law and I can’t imagine that the majority of those affected would have had this knowledge either.

    No big deal.

    When Sen. Lautenberg added his amendment that prohibited anyone who had ever been convicted of a family violence misdemeanor from possessing a firearm, a whole lot of people were punished again by a law that didn’t exist at the time of their offense.

    They were punished again for offenses that were in some cases decades old. Many of them had been advised by attorneys to plead no contest so the offenses would “go away.” In some cases the allegations of abuse were manufactured because that was, at the time, one way to qualify for a divorce. Law enforcement and security officers and military personnel lost jobs over it.

    “Ex post facto?” “Double jeopardy?” So what’s your point?

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