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UDC Law Review Convenes First-Ever Law School Symposium Dedicated to Marijuana Reform in D.C.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: UDC Law Review
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Members of the 2017-18 UDC Law Review Editorial Board with UDC Law Dean Shelley Broderick and D.C. School of Law Foundation Chair Jon Bouker.

On Thursday, March 22, 2018, more than 100 people gathered for “Cannabis and the Law: The Impact of Marijuana Legalization on the Drug War, Public Policy, and Social Justice,” at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (“UDC Law”). The full-day UDC Law Review symposium, co-sponsored by the School of Law, convened legal scholars, policy advocates, and community organizers for the District’s first-ever law school conference on the subject of marijuana and the law.

Denisha Jones, Managing Editor of the UDC Law Review, opened the event with an overview of the day’s events and an introduction of her fellow members of the 2017-18 Editorial Board, including Editor-in-Chief Tariqua Morrison, Publications Editor Seth Brown, Articles Editor Shani Brown, and Notes Editor John K. Blake.

Dean Shelley Broderick welcomed those in attendance to UDC Law and spoke to the importance of marijuana legalization in the context of the movements for criminal justice reform and D.C. statehood. The symposium agenda included discussions on: the tension between the federal government and states; the historical overview of the fight for legalization; the work of lawyers in the cannabis movement; policy, advocacy, and racial justice; local cannabis issues for D.C., Maryland, and Virginia; and an expungement information session. The Honorable D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (Ind., At-Large), a leading proponent of marijuana reform in the District, gave the closing keynote address.

For the first panel of the day, “Fed vs. States and the Future of Cannabis Legalization,” Clinical Instructor in the Housing and Consumer Law Clinic and UDC Law alumnus Jasmine Mize, ’08, moderated a discussion by Michelle Rutter, Government Relations Manager of the National Cannabis Industry Association and Josh Sanderlin, Partner at the Cogent Law Group. The panel offered a useful overview of recent developments in marijuana law and policy including a discussion of the implications of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ January 2018 rollback of the so-called Cole Memorandum, which had outlined the Obama-era U.S. Department of Justice policy of relative noninterference with state marijuana licensing and regulatory schemes. Rutter and Sanderlin also shared their perspective as government affairs practitioners on pending legislation such as the Marijuana Justice Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), which would end federal prohibition of marijuana by descheduling the drug from the federal Controlled Substances Act, require federal courts to expunge federal marijuana convictions, and penalize states with racial disparities in marijuana enforcement.

The group broke for lunch, during which Keith Stroup, founder and Director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), presented a historical overview of cannabis legislation in the United States from the perspective of his personal experience as an attorney and founder of NORML in 1970. Mr. Stroup stressed the importance of shifting public opinion to drug reform, noting that U.S. public opinion polls registered 88% in opposition at the time he began campaigning for marijuana reform, while today’s era of liberalization is witness to polls reflecting 60% in favor.

The conference split into breakout sessions following lunch, to better focus on different aspects of the issues. One breakout group, “The Work of Lawyers in the Cannabis Movement,” brought together attorneys in the burgeoning field of cannabis law, with a panel including Meredith Kinner, ’10, and John McGowan, of Kinner & McGowan, PLLC, joined Kate Bell of the Marijuana Policy Project and David Mangone of the Legislative Council Americans for Safe Access. Ms. Kinner and her fellow panelists emphasized the increasing number of professional opportunities in the field as marijuana reform advances while addressing the stigma still attached to attorney practitioners in the area.

Meanwhile, at “The Role of Advocacy, Public Policy, and Racial Justice in Cannabis Legalization,” panelists Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance, Caroline Phillips of the National Cannabis Festival, and Adam Eidinger of DCMJ discussed pressing issues facing advocacy campaigners in the D.C. area and nationally. The panelists spoke powerfully to the gaps in current legalization schemes, by which even in jurisdictions where marijuana possession has been decriminalized many people still face arrest for “public consumption,” retain a criminal record for past marijuana offenses, or become subject to false arrests that nonetheless result in eviction or deportation due to officers’ disregard of the law. In the words of Ms. Adesuyi, "Restorative justice for people involved in the criminal justice system due to drug offenses is a moral obligation for jurisdictions where marijuana legalization is taking place."

When the breakout sessions concluded, attendees reconvened at the Moot Court Room for “Local Cannabis Issues: Spotlight on D.C., Maryland, and Virginia,” featuring attorneys Brandon Wyatt of Wyatt Legal and Consulting and Jason Klein of Offit Kurman alongside policy advocates Nicholas Shiller of DCMJ and Virginia NORML’s Jenn Michelle Pedini. Following the panel, attorney Brandon Wyatt made a second appearance to lead attendees in an informational session on expungement options in D.C. for those with prior marijuana-related arrests and convictions.

Jon Bouker, Partner at the prominent law firm Arent Fox and Chair of the D.C. School of Law Foundation, took the stage to welcome keynote speaker D.C. Councilmember David Grosso and extoll the UDC Law event, saying “These issues are complex, they’re consequential, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that UDC Law has taken on such an important issue for our times. As far as I’m concerned this is the finest public law school in the nation, period.”

Councilmember Grosso brought the crowd to its feet for a closing keynote, speaking to marijuana policy in the District, the need to repair the harm of the War on Drugs, and the importance of treatment and harm reduction approaches to drug addiction. Councilmember Grosso introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013 and was the primary sponsor of the Record Sealing for Non-Violent Marijuana Possession Act of 2013.

The event is the first of two spring symposia held by the UDC Law Review and School this year. A three-day symposium on the Fair Housing Act, “FHA@50: Renewing Our Commitment to Housing Equity,” is scheduled for April 20, 2018. FHA@50 is being organized in partnership with the UDC Law Review, UDC Law Housing and Consumer Rights Clinic, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and Equal Rights Center.


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