On September 25, 2020, Catholic Law faculty members came together for a virtual research presentation hosted by Professor Cara H. Drinan, Director of Faculty Research. The lunchtime presentation featured Professor Mark Osler, who is the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of St. Thomas. A graduate of Yale Law School, Osler is one of the nation's leading experts on clemency, sentencing, and narcotics law.
Osler presented his forthcoming paper, “What We Got Wrong in the War on Drugs.” A former federal prosecutor who advocates for sentencing and clemency policies rooted in human dignity, Osler began by speaking about his early career. He shared how he was compelled by the way in which the law inserted itself into peoples’ lives—particularly in his drug cases—and how that changed the way he viewed his vocation as a lawyer. It became apparent to him that the War on Drugs was not working. As the founder of the first law school clinic specializing in federal commutations, Osler has observed first-hand “the waves of tragedy” that come with the ineffective approach of drug interdiction and steep drug sentencing. In his paper, he argues that several myths about the War on Drugs need to be debunked. It was never a race-neutral enterprise; drug crimes are distinct from other crimes in their cooperative aspect and in their overlap with legal drugs; and finally, drugs represent a vast market and must be approached as such.
Osler shared, “This paper was more of an expression of emotion, more than anything else, that there is this great wrong that continues. That there is this function of our society that we continue to do that creates harm at so many levels. It creates racial harm, it creates economic harm, it doesn’t do anything to address the scourge of drugs [...] We are making it worse rather than better. And that’s a moral issue as much as a political one and a legal one.”
Osler was the first in a series of research presentations that Drinan will host this year, including both internal and external speakers. Next month, Catholic Law Professor Beth Winston will present her research on increasingly intangible innovations and the need for modernized public ordering of such innovations.