Let It Grow: Why More Law Schools Should Teach Cannabis Law – JURIST – Commentary

Douglas A. Berman and Jana Hrdinová, executive director and administrative director, respectively, of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, discuss their center’s recent report on courses and curriculum in drug law. cannabis in law schools across the United States. …

California’s 1996 ballot initiative protecting medical marijuana users from state criminal prosecution launched the era of modern marijuana reform in the United States. Partly as a result of federal prohibition, state medical marijuana laws have raised an array of interesting and complex legal issues. Some questions concerned the scope of federal law after state reforms. Could doctors be punished by federal authorities for recommending marijuana to patients under state law? Could groups supplying marijuana to patients raise a defense of medical necessity if they face federal prosecution? Other issues have arisen at the intersection of new drug laws and other state laws. Could an employer legally fire an employee with a valid medical recommendation simply for testing positive for marijuana? Could cops legally search a car based on the smell of marijuana?

Lawyers and courts have grappled with these and countless other legal issues across the country as an ever-increasing number of states have legalized marijuana for various uses. Numerous constitutional questions about potential conflicts between federal and state authority and individual rights have occupied the federal courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court. A wide range of state law issues have not only occupied state courts, but also state administrative bodies and legal ethics committees, all seeking to determine when and how attorneys can advise. or even play a role in the development of the marijuana industry.

A quarter century after California’s first state-level reform, three dozen states have now joined California in legalizing marijuana for a range of medical uses, representing more than 70% of the US population. And 18 states plus the District of Columbia, representing more than 40% of the US population, have also legalized cannabis for recreational use. A large and new cannabis industry has come with a number of complex regulatory and political issues. State policymakers and public advocates now face the challenge of developing licensing regimes and regulatory rules to protect public health and safety, designing effective tax rates and business structures, and to advance equitable goals ranging from expunging old convictions to helping disadvantaged communities participate in the industry. Private attorneys helping marijuana businesses must figure out how to raise capital, navigate licensing requirements, and structure acquisitions in the face of various state laws and the ongoing federal ban. Lawyers are also called upon to review and revise workplace rules on the use of marijuana, advise landlords, hospitals and other locations regarding the use of marijuana on their properties, and resolve a myriad other new issues in this dynamic field.

And yet, with so many new legal issues to tackle and such rich policy areas to debate, remarkably few law schools are cultivating a modern curriculum by offering courses in cannabis law and policy to the next generation of lawyers. Beginning in 2018, our center (The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law) conducted an annual survey of law school curriculum to track the evolution of teaching in the field of cannabis law and policy. We surveyed law school online class schedules and contacted Registrar’s offices via email. We were initially surprised that barely one in ten law schools offered even a single course in this area; in the 2018-2019 academic year, only 21 of 201 accredited law schools offered 24 cannabis-specific courses to their students. This number grew to 29 schools offering 33 courses in 2019-20, and the growth continued with 35 schools offering 35 courses in 2020-2021 and finally 37 schools offering 38 courses in our last count in 2021-2022. But even though the number of courses offered has increased over the past four years, law schools still lag considerably behind the rapid pace of cannabis legalization. While nearly 75% of US states now have some form of marijuana legalized, less than 20% of law schools in the US offer courses in cannabis law.

Notably, even schools offering courses in this area do not do so consistently: only eight schools offered a course on cannabis in the four years we examined the programs and 23 schools offered a course on cannabis. cannabis only once during this period. Coverage of this topic is limited even in law schools located in medical or adult use states. In the 2021-2022 academic year, there were 86 law schools located in states that had legalized marijuana for adult use, but just over a quarter of schools (24) offered courses on the law cannabis. Of the 57 law schools located in medical-use-only states, only eight offered courses on cannabis law or policy. In total, of the 143 law schools located in states that have legalized cannabis for medical or adult use, only 32 offered courses on cannabis policy and legislation. Of the 18 states that have legalized cannabis for adult use, eight states do not have law schools offering cannabis law courses, and neither does the District of Columbia. Of the 19 medical marijuana states, 12 had no law schools offering cannabis law courses in the 2021-2022 academic year. In other words, 20 out of 37 states that have legalized adult or medical use of marijuana do not have law schools that offer classes in cannabis law.

Cannabis reform states without a cannabis law course

These data suggest that many law schools, including those in states that have legalized cannabis for medical or adult purposes, have been slow to adapt their curriculum by adopting courses that will help prepare the next generation of lawyers. to work in this difficult and never known field. -changing legal and political environment. Given the growth of the cannabis industry as well as the complex nature of state-specific laws and regulations, the failure of schools in states that have legalized cannabis for medical or adult purposes could be seen as an important omission in the overall training of future legal professionals.

By emphasizing its educational value, the field of cannabis law can serve as a terrific capstone course for graduate students that provides a bridge between the teachings of law school and the practice of law by presenting an application practical and understandable for complex legal issues. But there can also be great professional value for students. The Fall 2021 issue of The National Jurist put “Cannabis Law” on its list of “20 Hottest Legal Jobs for the Next Decade,” no doubt because the number of law firms and other employers seeking young legal talent with a knowledge base in this area is sure to grow as more and more states legalize and develop recreational and medical cannabis regimes. Given the relative newness of this industry, its complicated regulatory environment, and its continued growth, students familiar with cannabis laws may have special career opportunities and chances for rapid advancement in a dynamic and interesting field. . Notably, the legal press has pointed out that an increasing number of large law firms are beginning to form large cannabis practice groups. It will be worth watching whether an increasing number of large law firms developing cannabis-related practices will in turn lead to an increasing number of law schools adding courses in this area.

Douglas A. Berman is the Newton D. Baker-Baker & Hostetler Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Jana Hrdinová is the administrative director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Suggested quote: Douglas A. Berman and Jana Hrdinová, Let It Grow: Why More Law Schools Should Teach Cannabis Law, JURIST – Academic Commentary, May 11, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/05/douglas-berman – jana-hrdinova-law-schools-cannabis-curriculum/.


This article was prepared for publication by Katherine Gemmingen, Associate Co-Editor of JURIST. Please direct your questions or comments to him at commentary@jurist.org


The opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of JURIST’s editors, staff, donors, or the University of Pittsburgh.

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