One of the most popular classes at Ohio State University law school this semester is colloquially known as “Pot Law,” but the nickname belies the serious legal issues covered by the students.
Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform is taught by OSU Law Professor Douglas Berman. Among the topics covered are the tension between state reform and federal law, banking regulations, drug-free workplace rules, tax codes, social justice, legal ethics and more.
“We cover not just what the law is now, what the policy debates are, but what the reform prospects are going to be,” said Berman, who started teaching the cutting-edge seminar three years ago. “It’s timely because we’re having a nationwide conversation about our historic marijuana policies and states that are reforming dramatically, even though the federal system hasn’t yet reformed, and then debate now is coming full speed in Ohio it appears.”
The 20 students are critiquing marijuana legalization campaigns, arguing over how communities should be rebuilt in the wake of the War on Drugs and talking about how lawyers might render legal services to marijuana businesses without running afoul of legal ethics.
One student did a presentation titled “A Lawyer’s Intro to Marijuana Public Relations,” and tackled the legal ethics of advertising expertise in an area that is still prohibited by federal law.
Third-year law student Dilynn Roettker of Jackson said she is researching how the tax code applies to marijuana businesses and disadvantages them.
Berman scheduled the class in the less-than-popular Friday afternoon time slot to cut back on students who aren’t serious about the subject matter. Still, 19 of the 20 enrolled students were sitting through the class on a recent sunny day and discussing racial disparities of marijuana law enforcement, promises of jobs and tax revenue by pot legalization campaigns, and problems with ResponsibleOhio’s proposal when it comes to medical marijuana, home-grow pot and growth facilities.
ResponsibleOhio is campaigning to make Ohio the first state in the country to flip from a full-ban to legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C., which all have legalized recreational pot, started first with medical marijuana programs.
ResponsibleOhio is working to gather 305,591 valid Ohio voter signatures by July 1 to put a constitutional amendment before Ohio voters in November. ResponsibleOhio would carve out 10 grow sites across the state, controlled by investors backing the campaign.
“Which word is worse to call your opponent? Cartel or oligarchy? Let’s have a quick poll, show of hands,” Berman said last Friday. An even split of hands went up for each word and Charles Robol, a third year student from suburban Columbus, said, “They’re both accurate.”
Two architects of ResponsibleOhio, Ian James and Chris Stock, were among guest speakers at Berman’s class this semester.
Berman, who joined OSU faculty in 1997, said he is delighted to see students challenge the assertions of guest speakers, ask probing questions and develop healthy skepticism. He noted that the students in the class tend to be in favor of marijuana reforms.
Berman, who is a nationally known expert on criminal sentencing and marijuana laws, said he doesn’t know if students call the class ‘Weed 101.’
“I often call marijuana ‘pot’ and I’ve been told by the students that shows hold old I am because the proper word is ‘weed,’” said Berman, 46. “And certainly I’ve seen people reference classes like this as the ‘Basics of Weed.’ But I don’t call it that and I think it’s important to understand, especially for law students, how many serious, challenging legal issues that this area has presented.”
Joshowa Yost, of Fairborn, said, “We usually just call it ‘Pot Law.’” Yost said the class has heard from advocates on both sides of the legalization issue and had the chance to drill into the issues. “We’ve heard all the sides of the stories debated and just kind of picked it apart, picked apart the argument to its core elements.”
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