Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Law student forum on pot laws sparks debate, discussion

Spirits were high at a series of debates April 5–7 at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law as leading legal authorities debated the merits of Colorado’s medical marijuana laws and the conflict with existing federal regulations.

A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 200 students and community members packed the school’s mock trial room on the final lunchtime debate, with criminal defense attorney Robert Corry arguing in favor of relaxed marijuana laws against Colorado Attorney General John Suthers’ call for stricter enforcement and clearer laws. DU law professor Sam Kamin acted as moderator.

Suthers, an adjunct professor at DU in addition to his state duties, argued that voters got a bait and switch when they agreed to a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana as treatment for some chronic illnesses back in 2000. That amendment has led to a recent explosion in marijuana dispensaries across Colorado, with hundreds of people applying for medical marijuana licenses. Meanwhile, the federal government has said it will refrain from enforcing federal drug laws against marijuana users complying with their state laws.

“What is transpiring here is not what voters voted for in 2000,” Suthers said, as he related stories of Colorado residents who have been surprised at how that vote led to the surge in dispensaries.

Corry argued the amendment is perfectly clear and specifically legalizes the sale and dispensing of medical marijuana. Legalization makes marijuana use safer for those who have been seen by a doctor, he said, and voters understood the intent.

“They didn’t want a 72-year-old grandmother in a wheelchair to have to go get her medication on Colfax Avenue at 2 a.m.,” he said.

Corry urged Suthers to enforce the Colorado amendment legalizing use and to buck federal drug laws that encroach on states’ rights.

Debate was lively between the two as Corry quoted a book on law written by Suthers, and the two even drifted into discussion of the recently enacted federal health care overhaul. The crowd applauded regularly as Corry argued his case.

And the crowd really came alive during the question-and-answer session. At one point questioners shouted at Suthers, and there were tense moments as speakers in the audience demanded to be heard and to argue their own sides.

Law student John Carreras, who developed the idea for a three-day series of marijuana debates, said the idea was to expose students to a balanced discussion of what is becoming a national issue, as California voters will be asked to legalize even recreational use of the drug this November.

“It was important to me to have an objective discussion,” he said. “It’s something that’s on all of our minds because the state laws and the federal laws do overlap. I didn’t want to have just one side’s opinion. I wanted a fair forum for discussion.”

A one-hour debate on April 5 featured physician Sunil Aggarwal arguing with Alice Mead, director of professional relations for GW Pharmaceuticals. The April 6 discussion saw Kamin lead a panel including Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, Allen Hopper of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Troy Eid, former U.S. attorney for Colorado.

Along with DU and the ACLU, the discussions were sponsored by the American Constitution Society; College Democrats; College Republicans; National Lawyers Guild; Health Law Society; Public Interest Law Group; Criminal Law Society; DU Law Review; the Federalist Society; The Writ newspaper; and marijuana reform group NORML.


Comments are closed.