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Friday, May 31, 2013

Starting a summer series on the upper-level law school canon and my marijuana seminar

SantaynaAs revealed by this page on The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law website, I will have the unique honor and distinct pleasure of teaching a (ground-breaking?) law school seminar this coming Fall semester titled "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform."  As the title of this post reveals, I hope to discuss my ideas and efforts in this arena at great length in this and other on-line spaces in the months ahead.

As I pitched my faculty to approve this new course, I came to realize that I have a focused and strong perspective concerning why I am teaching this seminar, but only a diffuse and weak perspective concerning just how I am teaching this seminar.  Thus, I thought it would be a useful summer project to do a lengthy series of posts here (and at my home blog Sentencing Law and Policy) explaining in detail why I am so excited about this new law school course and also revealing just how deeply uncertain I am about what to cover in this new course.

Following this kick-off post, I hope to do at least a few posts each week concerning the specific topic of my in-development marijuana seminar and the broader topic of what upper-level law school classes and seminars should aspire to achieve. I expect that I will do most of my posts in this series here at PrawfsBlawg; these topics are likely to be of greater interest to an audience made up mostly of law professors rather than sentencing practitioners and researchers.  But my main goal throughout this series will be to encourage robust commentary and feedback regarding the criminal justice perspectives and teaching plans I hope to be able to set forth throughout this series of posts.  Consequently, I will not be surprised if I end up doing a lot of cross-posting both here and at SL&P in this series, especially when I focus on the substance rather than the style of my new class on "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform."

Speaking of substance, I will conclude first this post seeking input on whether, how and how much time I ought to consider devoting in "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" to the legal and social history of alcohol Prohibition.  Public health scholars tell me that that use, abuse and addiction surrounding the drug of marijuana has more parallels to alcohol than to tobacco.  I believe there are lots of important legal and social themes from the Prohibition era that merit significant coverage in my new class before we jump into the modern marijuana law and policy; my tentative plan has been to devote two or three weeks at the start of my "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" seminar (e.g., about 20% of class time) to coverage of the legal and social history of alcohol Prohibition.

But when I conducted a brown-bag discussion with some members of my faculty this past week, I was intrigued by feedback urging me not to "waste" too much class time on this legal history.  A few colleagues reasonably suggested that, because I am not a legal historian, it might be worse if students were taught "poor legal history" rather than no legal history.  (My half-joking retort was that if poor legal history is good enough for Justice Scalia, it ought to be good enough for law students.)  Others reasonably suggested that students might be put off if my "hot topic" seminar was going to start with weeks of looking back 100 years.

Though I very much welcome feedback on the specific issue of whether, when, and how much class time I should spend discussing Prohibition, I would also love to hear thoughts more broadly about whether, when, and how much law professors who are not legal historians should focus upper-level class time on legal history.  In some ways, I think this issue spotlights a core concern in broader debates over what law schools should do now in the classroom: teaching legal history does not readily help today's law students become practice-ready; but I doubt George Santayana is the only one who thinks there can be lots of long-term negative consequences from being ignorant of important historical stories and lesson.

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law and Policy.

Posted by Douglas A. Berman on May 31, 2013 at 10:13 AM in Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


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My understanding is that bans on marijuana, when they first came about, did in fact have a lot to do w/ anti-immigrant sentiments- it was seen as a "Mexican" drug. That seems worth noting. (My knowledge here is all second-hand, and might be wrong.) It's my understanding that race and citizenship issues were involved in outlawing of some other drugs, too- race fears with cocaine, for example. I think I'd not spend too much time on the history, but some comparison between how alcohol and marijuana have been treated could be very insightful. (I might also want to at least note how, it seems, people in the US drank quite a bit more before prohibition than afterwards, and that price, partly from taxes and partly from side-effects of regulation, seemed to have greatly reduced drinking.)

Posted by: Matt | May 31, 2013 8:51:02 PM

On the issue of Prohibition, a lot depends on what you would hope to accomplish by using it. It seems to me there are two striking historical differences: 1)the push for Prohibition was bound up in women's rights and anti-immigrant sentiments, to a degree the anti-marijuana movement was/is not, and 2) there are nice questions of congressional constitutional power, which is why Prohibition required a constitutional amendment but the War on Drugs has not. Those would be interesting things to discuss, but they may take you far afield from the policy focus you want to have in the course.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | May 31, 2013 4:54:51 PM

Timely idea for a course. There is a lot of interest among alternative funds (from angel and venture investors to high level private equity firms) on how to get involved on the investment side. The course should therefore have a component devoted to business structuring. It will be difficult as the law is evolving so rapidly. Good luck.

Posted by: ChicagoD | May 31, 2013 2:12:22 PM

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