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Improving America’s competitiveness in the Global Market

Every business leader knows that a cornerstone of America’s dynamic economy has been the intellectual capital generated by our educational system. America’s colleges and university produce highly skilled business leaders, scientists, and engineers who use our capitalist economic system to innovate and create value.

We are as dependent upon bright, well-trained college graduates as we are upon financial capital and an honest legal system. But since 2000, another unintended consequence of the war on drugs has blocked 178,000 qualified students from getting loans or grants to attend college, according the U.S. Department of Education. The “Souder amendment” to the Higher Education Act of 1965 bars anyone with a drug conviction from eligibility for a federal loan or grant.

America’s ability to grow our economy depends on expanding the number of college graduates.

“We need more scientists and engineers,” was the conclusion of the Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, of the National Academies (the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council). In October 2005, they issued a 500-page report on America’s educational needs to maintain America’s economic position.

A key recommendation was that America must improve the number and quality of college students in the sciences, mathematics and engineering.

It is regrettable that one-quarter of America’s high school seniors have used illegal drugs. But those applying to college are not hard core drug addicts or drug dealers. Denying college loans (and a college education) to otherwise qualified college applicants undermines our competitive position.

According to the FBI, more than 2 million persons under age 18 have been arrested for a drug offense since 1994.1 Roughly half of all drug arrests are persons under age 25. Last year, more than 800,000 persons under 25 were arrested for a drug offense. In recent years, about one in four high school seniors reports that he or she used marijuana or another illegal drug in the past 30 days, according to the government’s Monitoring the Future surveys. Making these arrests isn’t hard – it is like shooting fish in a barrel.

These young people are typical American youth, eager for an education and to contribute to society. But the drug amendment, by blocking young people eager to go to college who have the intellectual ability and academic attainments to qualify, hurts America’s ability to compete globally.

We don’t want to encourage illegal drug use, because drug use presents real, if often exaggerated, risks to the mental and physical health. But drug use is not always bad. In fact, some illegal drug use led to very important scientific research.

An American, Kary Mullis, Ph.D., was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993. In 1995, speaking of his research he said, “I think I might have been stupid in some respects, if it weren’t for my psychedelic experiences.” He was referring his use of illegal drugs such as LSD and mescaline.2

Dr. Francis Crick was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for developing the double helix model of DNA with Dr. James Watson. Crick admitted years later that he often took small doses of LSD to boost his powers of thought. He told biochemist Richard Kemp that he had perceived the double helix shape while on LSD and fed that idea into his research.3

Scores of organizations concerned about education and American society have called for repeal of the drug provision of the Higher Education Act, including the American Bar Association, and the American Council on Education. For more information contact the Coalition for Higher Education Act Repeal (CHEAR)

The report by the National Academies’s Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future can be accessed at http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11463.html?onpi_newsdoc10122005


1. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_04/special_reports/arrest_juveniles.html

2. 5 MAPS Bulletin, Summer 1994, at p. 43 (reporting a telephone conversation between Dr. Kary Mullis and Dr. Rick Doblin in the Spring of 1994).

3. National Documentation Center on Drug Use, http://www.ndc.hrb.ie/directory/news_detail.php?cat_id=&news_id=1330&pointer=0;
Alun Rees, The Mail on Sunday (London, UK), “Nobel Prize genius Crick was high on LSD when he discovered the secret of life.” August __, 2004