Baker Institute, South Texas College of Law collaboration yields model drug policy legislation
HOUSTON – (March 18, 2014) – As more states consider the legalization of marijuana, law students at South Texas College of Law (STCL) had the unique opportunity to draft model drug policy legislation as part of a new interinstitutional collaboration between STCL and Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. The model statutes are now available online.
The goal of the collaboration was to create an array of off-the-shelf pieces of legislation that legislators and government officials can consult and learn from as marijuana policy becomes a major issue in Texas over the next decade, the collaboration leaders said. The students’ collection presents a menu of options for policymakers. Neither the Baker Institute nor the South Texas College of Law endorses any particular policy.
“The students are enthusiastic about the opportunity to use their legal knowledge for a project that could have significant real-world effects,” said Dru Stevenson, a law professor and the Helen and Harry Hutchins Research Professor at STCL, who taught the course. “The students have a variety of backgrounds and perspectives on drug use and drug policy, but there is general agreement in the class that legalization is the clear trajectory and that we need to stay ahead of the curve, to think about the legal issues that will confront a society after it legalizes marijuana.”
Baker Institute Drug Policy Program members William Martin, the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy, and Nathan Jones, the Alfred C. Glassell III Postdoctoral Fellow in Drug Policy, led the collaboration with Stevenson.
Starting in fall 2013, 19 second- and third-year STCL students in an upper-level elective course focused on researching and drafting legislation for states to use after legalizing the use of marijuana. Drawing in part on the Baker Institute Drug Policy Forum’s expertise, the students drafted 19 separate statutes grouped into six categories: decriminalization statutes, recriminalization statutes, labeling statutes, an employment law statute, permits and licensing statutes and commercial and retail regulation of marijuana establishments.
Jones noted important common themes in the statutes: First, many heavily emphasized preventing minors from accessing marijuana in a legal market. Nearly every statute established a minimum age of 21 years for consumption. Second, nearly all of the statutes reduced the penalties on the possession of small amounts of marijuana (usually an ounce or less), “paying homage to the general societal criticism that the United States has punished nonviolent drug offenses too harshly,” Jones said. Finally, many of the statutes created regulatory agencies or gave regulatory power to an existing agency to manage the market. “The students keenly understood that regulation would be ongoing and have to adapt to market conditions,” Jones said. “An agency to manage those shifts would be needed.”
Some of the statutes possessed unique ideas, such as a 25-years-or-older marijuana use rule, and the use of radio frequency identification or scanner tracking of marijuana products to enforce limits on transportation, Jones said.
The collaboration leaders said future iterations of the course will assign the students to work on a smaller number of statutes focusing on different aspects of the large policy options, such as decriminalization, medical marijuana legislation, legalization through a state monopoly and regulated legalization led by the private sector.
“We look forward to receiving feedback on the ideas behind the statute and future iterations of the collaboration as we move toward the creation of ‘uniform’ statutes for new marijuana policy in the state of Texas,” Jones said.
For the project’s executive summary and to view the model statutes, see http://bakerinstitute.org/research/drug-policy-collaboration-2013.
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Founded in 1993, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston ranks among the top 20 university-affiliated think tanks globally and top 30 think tanks in the United States. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The instituteís strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows and Rice University scholars. Learn more about the institute at www.bakerinstitute.org or on the institute’s blog, http://blogs.chron.com/bakerblog.