Oh the Smell of Legal Knowledge

With hot ticket items being offered on ballots awaiting voter approval (or lack thereof), the legal field is extensively adjusting to the need in offering these new topics within law school curricula. With the legalization of marijuana in four states along with medical allowance in others, law schools throughout the country are taking note.

Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law is one of the first initiating a legal education class on the intricacies of statutes coupled with the ethical and political aspects of the legalization. The ratification of these statutes within certain jurisdictions brings an abundance of issues including constitutional law’s federal versus state argument along with the effects of legalization in accounting and taxation. Criminal statutes also have evolved. In July, 2014, for example, the Supreme Judicial Court found that police may not validly search a vehicle solely based on the smell of marijuana. This was based on the notion that an individual cannot discern a small versus a large amount of marijuana and thus, this area of subjectivity would make it difficult to substantiate a “valid” search. Since possession of marijuana in small quantities (less than an ounce in the state of Massachusetts) is decriminalized, the Court found that officials need to concentrate their time on crimes of serious nature, rather than those that would ultimately result in a small fine.

Attorneys that may concentrate in other fields such as taxation or business law have shown interest and support in learning the law behind the legalization of marijuana. Seminars are being offered to show the correlation of how a specific field may be affected by the passage of these statutes.

Legal ethics classes are also addressing the topics since there is a constant struggle whether it should be legalized on a federal level. Since government and state law do not coincide, therein still lies the question not only whether marijuana should be legal but also if so, what level it should be legalized (recreational versus medicinal). This has become an integral area of discussion in classrooms.

Since the field is so novel, case law is minimal which is vital since it would set a precedent in further refining these statutes. Even though there are differing views on its legalization, some practitioners believe that there is an inner struggle in learning this subject as not everyone agrees with its enactment. Along with this struggle come the stigma as well as practicing as an attorney that specializes within this area. In the meanwhile, at some schools such as the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, there is a waitlist for students and attorneys who are looking to sit in on a class.

Enrollment rates to law schools have drastically decreased within the 3 year span between 2010–2013. With a drop of 24%, schools are beginning to get creative to draw more students in. This includes collaborating with other fields in creating new and innovative fields in training that include cyber and telecommunications law, similarly to marijuana law. More classes are being offered to provide practical information and training in fields that may seem unconventional when compared to the basic core classes that 1L and 2L students take before venturing off to pass the bar. These areas are concentrated on due to the fact that they are so heavily tested on the exam. Other fields that may seem more “practical” are not testable on the bar exam. Therefore, schools spend most of their resources in having students excel to pass the bar, not towards classes that may spark (no pun intended) their interest. With a revolving curriculum, academic institutions are likely to begin to convert to more unconventional topics and methods in teaching. The images of old leather bound law books proclaiming the law of the land may be no more when schools transition over to more current topics that, for all we know, may in fact become profitable fields of practice for attorneys across the country.


Sources: Legalized Pot Gets OSU Class of Its Own; The Smell of Marijuana is No Longer Justification for Searches in Massachusetts; University of Denver Marijuana Law Class a Hit Among Students; Drop in Applications Spurs Changes at Law Schools; Law School Decisions (Image)