Ohio State gets $4.5 million from Koch Foundation to start drug policy center

November 1, 2017 GMT

Ohio State gets $4.5 million from Koch Foundation to start drug policy center

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State University will establish a new drug policy center with a $4.5 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.

The center will support research and debate about drug policy reforms such as the “war on drugs” and their effects on society, OSU announced Wednesday. The Drug Enforcement Policy Center will be housed across three schools: the Moritz College of Law, John Glenn College of Public Affairs and College of Social Work.

Doug Berman, a law school professor who will head the center, said it will operate independently from the Koch Foundation, which funds efforts to support a “free and open society.”

Foundation leader and GOP megadonor Charles Koch has advocated for criminal justice reforms that reduce prison populations, such as decriminalizing marijuana. Berman specializes in criminal sentencing and marijuana law and policy.

“At the law school, the only way we would want to move forward is if we had complete academic independence and academic freedom,” Berman said in an interview.

OSU will use the $4.5 million grant as seed money for the center’s first five years. The first step, Berman said, is to hire three new faculty members and line up visiting professors who will research policy topics and teach courses. The center will also host seminars and workshops.

“Ohio State in particular, and Ohio in general, are institutionally and geographically so well positioned to look at any and every problem that transcends our borders,” Berman said.

Two issues Berman wants to look at are the opioid addiction crisis and medical marijuana legalization. Ohio has one of the worst rates of opioid overdose deaths in the country and is setting up its medical marijuana program, expected to start next year.

For example, Berman said, the center might examine how state opioid task force recommendations have been implemented here and in other states. It could also study law enforcement’s response to legal medical marijuana sales in Ohio and whether it leads to more arrests and violations.

“We hope the center will be able to telescope out -- apply to the country or internationally -- but also to be able to telescope down to cities and neighborhoods,” Berman said.