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Ohio State Law School Introduces Class on Marijuana
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The popular class has been nicknamed "Weed 101."

Summary: Professor Douglas Berman teaches a popular course at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law that focuses on the legal implications of marijuana legalization.

“Marijuana Law, Policy, and Reform” is one of the newest classes offered at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, the Columbus Dispatch reports. Although the class has been fondly nicknamed “Weed 101” by law students, Professor Douglas Berman says the class is “…a lot more than that.”


Many seemed uninterested and dismissive about the debate on legal marijuana, which is what inspired Berman to create the class. The class encourages students to poke holes in arguments on both sides of the marijuana debate.

The class was created in 2013, just after voters in Colorado and Washington approved measures to legalize recreational marijuana. Predicting that more states would legalize marijuana, Berman told his associate dean that he had “…to do a seminar on this.”

Early in the class, Berman compares the anti-marijuana movement to the days of prohibition of alcohol in the United States. Later in the class, students are told to research deeper into a certain topic, such as bioethics or taxation.

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Read about other marijuana law classes here.

The focus of the class is the confusion that occurs when state and federal laws conflict. Berman said that even in states where marijuana is legal, it is unclear as to whether the federal tax code should treat sellers like regular business owners, and whether they should receive any tax benefits.

Berman said, “This is a serious area that is a matter of significant public policy. If we leave it to the snickers and the ha-ha’s and the people who think it’s a joke, you ensure that it’s not going to be regulated and reformed in a sensible way.”

To ensure that students who sign up for the class are serious about the subject, it is scheduled for Fridays. The class is one of a handful that have popped up around the country to explore federal and state marijuana laws.

Vanderbilt University began a similar course this semester, and the University of Denver in Colorado includes a course called “Representing the Marijuana Client” in its course catalog. Recreational marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, and, as a field trip, the students visit a dispensary to learn how marijuana is grown and sold to the public. According to USA Today, the University of Colorado’s class is a big hit with students.

Jon Allison, an attorney who represents the Drug Free Action Alliance, which is opposed to the legalization of marijuana, said, “Whether one agrees with the premise or not, it is an emerging area of the law in the country. There are all kinds of clients in the world, and they all deserve good lawyers.”

A new lawsuit in Colorado hopes to end marijuana legalization.

Berman does not argue for or against legalization in his class. Instead, students are encouraged to learn how legalization of marijuana may affect banking, criminal justice, politics, and taxation. Cases from around the country are studied, and the class is following its own state as advocates and opponents debate the issue. A ballot issue in November is possible. According to the Cincinnati Business Courier Attorney General Mike DeWine certified a ballot summary for the issue just today.

Berman explained, “It seems quite possible to me that Ohio is going to be the focal point for debate over marijuana reform throughout 2015 and probably into 2016.”

Currently, the class enrolls 16 students. Some hope to eventually work in this area. Ashley Braxton is a 24 year old law student who wants to advocate for minorities who have made their living selling marijuana prior to its legalization. She said, “For some people, the black market is their livelihood.”

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Steven Swick plans to practice business law, and is taking the course to see how legalization may affect businesses. “Having some knowledge could be useful,” he commented.

Berman was recently at a conference in Washington for American Indian tribes that have expressed interest in growing marijuana. Some of these tribes live in states that have legalized marijuana, but since the land they live on is in the jurisdiction of the federal government, marijuana is outlawed. Berman noted, “State-level reforms have an extra layer of complication to them. That’s a very valuable lesson for all lawyers to understand.”

Vermont may be the next state to legalize marijuana.

Many students enjoy learning an area of law as it unfolds, since most other classes focus on laws that are hundreds of years old. The students do not have to carry a heavy textbook—instead, Berman’s blog provides national updates to students. It’s difficult for Berman to decide what to cover in class. He said, “Almost every morning, I get up and check my Google news feed, and it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s another story I ought to be talking about.’ Things are moving so quickly, there’s no way I could teach everything.”

Source: Columbus Dispatch

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