Law firm sponsors professorship for pot law, policy at prestigious college

A Denver law firm that focuses on cannabis law has sponsored a prestigious Colorado law school with a three-year, $45,000 professorship for marijuana law and policy, The Cannabist has exclusively learned.

The University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law professor Sam Kamin will be the first Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy at the private college headquartered in south Denver. Pot law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC has committed $15,000 per year for three years to the professorship, which they say is the first of its kind in the world.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this field wouldn’t exist without the work Vicente Sederberg has done here and throughout the country,” Kamin told The Cannabist on Monday. “Brian (Vicente) was a student of mine 10 years ago, so the distance he’s come and the things he and his firm have done in a pretty short time is pretty amazing. So it’s an honor to be getting this.”

Kamin said he will use the money to participate in policy discussions in Colorado and abroad. “I’ve been wanting to go down to Uruguay and see what they’re doing with marijuana law reform,” Kamin said. He also plans on hiring student research assistants with the money.

“It feels both like an acknowledgement and an opportunity to do more of the work I’ve been doing,” Kamin said.

Vicente Sederberg’s sponsorship is an outright, non-endowed gift that funds the professorship — as opposed to an endowed chair, which would cost between $1-$5 million at the university, according to a college representative.

The University of Denver approached Vicente Sederberg about the possibility of a professorship. For founding partner Brian Vicente, the relationship made sense. After graduating from private liberal arts school Grinnell College in Iowa, Vicente received the full-ride Chancellor Scholarship at DU for his achievements and interest in public interest law. As Vicente’s name and career has progressed — he was one of the main architects of Colorado’s pot-legalizing Amendment 64 — he’s experienced varying relationships with both of his esteemed alma maters.

“My professors at DU definitely encouraged my interest in drug policy reform,” Vicente told The Cannabist on Monday. “But the school does have a reputation for being a conservative institution, and now they’re really stepping out front on the marijuana issue, which is a lightning rod. But at the end of the day they know they’re on the right side of history, and they want Colorado to continue being thought leaders in this new area.”

As for Grinnell, “They’ve run from the issue and not embraced my work in this area at all,” Vicente said. “For the University of Denver to really put their stamp on this area, I think it’s going to attract students from all over the world.”

Sturm College of Law Dean Martin J. Katz is ready for the microscope: “Our state and our school are poised to take a leadership position in this important new area of law and policy,” Katz said in a statement. “The rest of the country is watching. We need to do this right … We are extremely proud of the pioneering work done by our graduates at Vicente Sederberg. And we are honored to name a professorship for them, which will be held by Professor Sam Kamin, the nation’s foremost authority in this field.”

The timing of the professorship news was keen for Kamin. On Monday he was receiving the final papers from the first students to ever take his Representing the Marijuana Client class at DU Law.

“(The course) went really great,” said Kamin, adding that his class included conversations with representatives from the Department of Revenue, Vicente Sederberg, Dixie Elixirs, Medicine Man and other marijuana-related entities. Kamin will teach the class again next January, he said, “But I’m going to teach it in the evening to make it more accessible to our students who are working full time, and the idea is to keep building on the groundwork that we’ve created so far.

“My dean and I see this as: Where we can make a mark? One of the things we try to do as a law school is to be responsive to the community and practicing bar’s needs, and we keep hearing that we need layers who are trained and thoughtful about marijuana law and policy stuff.”

DU’s 420-friendly approach — which also includes the university’s recently announced Cannabis Journalism class — seems to be working. Kamin is also the chair of the law school’s admissions committee, and the university’s new area of focus is making a difference, he said.

“We see students reaching out to DU and applying here because they’re interested in the cannabis industry and being a part of it,” Kamin said, “so it has been an effective recruiting tool for us.”