Law students contribute to future recreational marijuana legislation
THE SANTA CLARA
January 22, 2014
The Santa Clara Law School is now offering its students the chance to change the course of state public policy.
A class on the legalization of recreational marijuana in California, spearheaded by Assistant Professor W. David Ball, gives students an opportunity to make a legitimate impact on future legislation.
“The fact that the work we’re doing isn’t just in a vacuum but is something that could be applied pretty directly and pretty soon is a huge part of it for each of us,” said Kendra Livingston, a J.D. candidate and student in the class. “We like to know that our work is going to be utilized.”
Ball is a member of the ACLU Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Law and Policy, chaired by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, which is tasked with discussing the best way to structure a legally regulated recreational cannabis market in California. Ball’s 13 students will contribute to the committee by doing research and brainstorming solutions that will be read by members of the commission.
Currently, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have legalized recreational marijuana use. Ball said many members of the law community, himself included, see recreational cannabis legalization will pass in California, and that its inevitability drives his participation in the subject area.
“I’m less concerned with whether or not it’s a good idea because I think that it’s happening,” he said. “My main interest is in making sure that it’s done right.”
Ball stresses that drug legalization does not mean boundary-free drug production, sale and use. He cited taxation, license requirements for producers and the criminal justice system as possible regulatory methods.
Ball and Livingston said they are both concerned about the possible diversion of drugs to minors, which could be curbed by mandatory on-site consumption laws that would prevent buyers from taking the product “to go” and distributing it to underage users.
“The legal framework in which we’re operating is ever-changing and very, very unsettled,” Ball said, noting that issues like these are rare in the world of law. “In law, you can generally only make incremental changes. Going from prohibition to legalization is a giant change.”
Bradley Joondeph, associate dean of academic affairs for the School of Law, said that the class was well-received among the administration and faculty, since it allows students to both learn and influence the public sphere.
“(The class) is one way to get students to write on topics that people in the legal community want to read about,” Ball said. “I want them to have
written a variety of important, salient, novel pieces, and to use that in order to help them advance their careers.”
The structure of the course differs compared to most law seminars because Ball has substituted traditional 20-page writing prompts with a number of shorter assignments, most notably a student blog.
The readings also deviate from the typical casebook framework, since the students must come up with solutions to the current state of marijuana legislation.
Joondeph said that the “stars came into alignment” for Ball’s class, given his participation on the Blue Ribbon Commission and availability to prepare and teach an upper-division seminar.
He said he hopes to see similar courses in the future.
“It’s wonderful, and if we could have a series of classes like this where we’re able to involve students in cutting edge legal questions and shape that public policy before it happens, I think it would be fantastic,” he said.
Both Livingston and classmate Erin Callahan hope to add to their portfolios and diversify their background in law by taking the class.
“I hope to create a body of work that I am proud of and to have a specialization in this developing area of law,” Callahan said in an email.
Contact Collin Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.