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Law Professor to Share Lessons Learned From Colorado's Marijuana Regulations

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Alyssa Hurst

Sam Kamin will deliver the 2018 University Lecture

Sam Kamin
Sam Kamin receives the University Lecturer award during the 2017 Faculty & Staff Awards Luncheon.

“Nothing else is quite like marijuana,” says Sam Kamin, Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. “We have this multibillion-dollar industry that’s really built on quicksand, and it all could disappear tomorrow.”

In the late 2000s, Kamin embarked on a path no one else had walked before in thinking through the legal issues associated with marijuana policy. His work earned him a spot on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Task Force on the Implementation of Amendment 64, which voters approved in 2012 and which provided for the commercial sale of marijuana to the general public. Now, more than four years after the amendment went into effect, Kamin is taking a look back and running the diagnostics, as the future of the industry seems to be running on two divergent tracks.

Kamin will share his take on the success, or failure, of Colorado’s marijuana regulations at the 2018 University Lecture, an annual event created to showcase the groundbreaking work of faculty members. The event is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 24 in the Center Theatre at the Cable Center.

Sam Kamin
Prof. Sam Kamin

“When I started looking at this, there were a handful of states with medical marijuana and no states had recreational,” he says. “Now there are nine states that have recreational and there are 29 states that have medical. You have the former speaker of the House on the board of a medical marijuana company. The next big question is, what happens at the federal level, and that’s an issue that seems to be changing from day to day.”

Kamin’s expertise in marijuana law and policy grew out of an issue he often thought about during his time teaching and researching in the areas of criminal and constitutional law. “I was interested in the division of responsibility between the state and the federal governments, so when Colorado started changing marijuana laws to make them more friendly, that seemed like an interesting place to look at those issues,” he says.

Kamin’s work on the topic has put him front and center of a rapidly emerging area of study. As Provost Gregg Kvistad put it: “There are such interesting topics posed by the state legalization of marijuana. There are federal/state issues, state/local issues; and a huge number of cultural and behavioral issues. Sam was one of the very first people in the country who started specializing in them. He is, and has been for some time, the go-to person on this very rich area in constitutional law. He is a pioneer in this burgeoning field."

Unlike some of his other focus areas, Kamin considered marijuana policy an area where he could make a tangible impact. After all, he was in the right place at the right time, and he got there first. “One of the great things is, it’s brand new. If I write about criminal law or procedure of death penalties, there are tens or hundreds of people who are already thinking about these issues,” he says. “This was really an opportunity to be one of the first people giving serious thought to how marijuana should be regulated.”

And, while the occasional pot puns still color the public discourse, Kamin says anybody who has taken the time to think about the issues around marijuana regulation realizes how important the topic is. “Whether it’s the state versus federal issue, or it’s the patient access issue, or issues around the unequal enforcement of criminal laws, there are a lot of serious issues here, and almost everyone sees past the jokes,” he says.

That’s true for Kamin’s law students, who were the first to suggest he begin teaching the topic. In fact, Kamin says the University has supported his efforts and research from the beginning. That support was demonstrated when he was named the University Lecturer, one of the highest honors the University bestows on faculty members. “There were a lot of schools that were a little skittish about taking this seriously, and offering classes in it and research support for it,” Kamin says. “It has really put us at the center of this important area of law and policy.”