Moritz College of Law is creating a new interdisciplinary center to study the impact of drug laws in the United States. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law announced Wednesday it is creating an interdisciplinary center to study the impact of the “war on drugs” and other drug laws, including marijuana legalization, in the United States.

Made possible by a $4.5 million donation from the Charles Koch Foundation, the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center will involve significant collaboration across a few of Ohio State’s different colleges, including the John Glenn College of Public Affairs and the College of Social Work.

As the nation began to grapple with the opioid epidemic and the pace at which new marijuana laws were being adopted, there became a need to thoughtfully and independently study these issues, said Doug Berman, a Moritz professor who will lead the DEPC.

“I continued to see, ‘Wow, there is a lot going on here that we think we know a lot about, and that is happening real quickly and is real interesting and people are talking about,’” Berman said, “but there’s not as many people, I thought, able to take the time, have the resources to do a sustained investigation and analysis on what is afoot.”

DEPC will be attentive to “the most pressing issues of the day,” Berman said, but he said the center’s work is geared toward a broader focus.

“I think the center is going to be eager to always provide sophisticated, objective, independent, thoughtful analysis of why we need to contextualize the problem of the day with the history of drug enforcement and drug policy movements in the United States and constantly be humble and agnostic about whether anybody who says, ‘Here is the solution,’ is basing advocacy on the soundest data, the soundest evidence, the soundest analysis on what’s going on,” Berman said.

Berman, who has an expertise in criminal sentencing, said the center will look at issues through the lense of, “What’s the criminal justice footprint here?”, but also expand to ask, “What the criminal justice system can do to contribute to a response to these problems, and where does that integrate with the public health responses and other social institutions?”  

The collaboration across disciplines is an critical factor in ensuring the center does fair, objective analysis, Berman said. In addition to working with current faculty and students from different departments, Berman said the three new employees — one each in the law school, the public affairs college and in social work — will be hired to work in the center.

“I think it’s such a dynamic area for the law and policy that having folks who came at these issues from a range of perspectives is something of great value for the center,” Berman said. “I am not looking to bring in a bunch of people who think or research these issues like I do.”

The center also will have opportunities for students to be involved, particularly through the creation of research fellowships, Berman said.

“One of the very fundamental goals of the center is to be a place to connect students, faculty, staff alumni, any and everybody in the university community … that’s committed to thoughtful, critical, analytical engagement with all that these topics indicate,” Berman said.

The Charles Koch Foundation has provided funding to “allow students and scholars to explore a diverse array of ideas and perspectives” at more than 300 colleges across the country, according to its website.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:09 p.m. Nov. 1 with quotes from Doug Berman.