DEPC supports record number of Moritz students during summer 2020

By Drug Enforcement and Policy Center Staff  |  Autumn 2020

Graphic showing a person at a computer, a stack of books, and icons of a dove, justice scales, handcuffs, money, a clipboard, and the coronavirus

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) supported a record 17 Moritz College of Law students in the summer of 2020 through research assistantships, internships, and fellowships. When COVID-19 forced DEPC to adapt, the center refocused its efforts and increased student support. Students expanded on their classroom knowledge with real-world projects and explored new parts of the law they had not yet considered. They contributed to new and ongoing research and supported wide-ranging drug policy and criminal justice initiatives. “Student involvement is an essential part of the work of the center and this year we were grateful for all-time high engagement from Moritzers,” said DEPC Executive Director Douglas Berman.


Although the coronavirus significantly impacted day-to-day operations, the center’s faculty benefited tremendously from student research assistants. Nicholas Sgroi, Alexandra Kirkpatrick, and Alyssa Roberts worked with DEPC Associate Professor of Law Patricia Zettler. Sgroi and Kirkpatrick were part of a multidisciplinary team, including physicians and psychologists, that collaborated on a forthcoming paper on Opioid Treatment Agreements (OTA). The students created a database that compiled each state’s guidelines on OTAs into a single resource. The study results will inform the development of an ethical framework for OTA use and inform policymakers and health care institutions’ decisions about whether to require, and how to implement, OTA use.

DEPC Visiting Professor, Sarah Brady Siff, benefitted from the assistance of Tricia Roederer, John Berk, Troy Tomasello, Shahrzad Shams, and Nia Kaudo. Roederer contributed to research for Dr. Siff’s upcoming book Weedkillers. She sharpened her writing skills while adapting to a virtual work environment and gained experience interviewing judges, professors, and other industry workers. Troy Tomasello and Shahrzad Shams assisted Dr. Siff with research on state-level regulatory approaches to marijuana edibles. The project entailed extensive investigation into arrest records, police reports, and court records. Tomasello said the project was rewarding in that he was able to delve into one subject and gain valuable experience handling and obtaining records. “Upon finding that there was limited caselaw on this subject in Westlaw, we decided to produce our own data set by requesting marijuana trafficking cases in Franklin County,” said Tomasello.

Graphic with quote that reads: "I felt like everything I was doing was really relevant to what was going on in the world, especially with how sentencing would be impacted by COVID-19." —Shelby Mann, Moritz student


Other students supported center-based research, gaining valuable experience producing reports on the impact of COVID-19 on drug policy and enforcement. Shelby Mann compiled sentencing criteria for drug charges across several states and summarized key differences among state statutes. Mann shared that her work with the center reignited her passion for criminal law. “My favorite part about the whole experience was that I felt like everything I was doing was really relevant to what was going on in the world, especially with how sentencing would be impacted by COVID-19.” Sienna Dunakin contributed to the Ohio Governor’s Expedited Pardon Project and produced research into the impacts the pandemic has had on clemency, compassionate release, and state prison populations. Walter Gibson researched state-level responses to COVID-19 and guidelines for their liquor and cannabis boards. Sam DeWitt produced a paper titled “Cannabis and Coronavirus: Impact on Medical Cannabis Industries in Three States” which the center published as part of the DEPC Student Paper Series.

Graphic with quote that reads: "The most valuable aspect of this internship was getting to interact with clients." —Liddy Potts, Moritz student.


DEPC partnered with the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC), to sponsor an additional four Moritz student internships. Liddy Potts, Mariah Daly, Terri McKee, and Shahrzad Shams were among those students who supported the work of these justice organizations during the summer of 2020.

Liddy Potts spent her summer working for the OJPC where she organized record sealing clinics in Mansfield and Dayton, Ohio. The day-long, remote clinics paired volunteer attorneys like Potts with clients in each city, walking them through the record sealing process. “The most valuable aspect of this internship was getting to interact with clients,” said Potts.

Mariah Daly graduated from the Moritz College of Law in December 2019 and said the experience gave her the chance to begin her legal career in uncertain times. At LPP, Daly managed constituent intake, conducted legal research, drafted memorandums, and assisted with two Amicus Briefs, a clemency petition, and several policy publications. Daly’s clerkship led to a permanent position as a legal fellow for LPP. “I am perpetually grateful for the DEPC and the whole team at LPP for giving me this chance to fulfill my life’s purpose while being able to financially sustain myself and advance my career,” said Daly.

Shahrzad Shams worked for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. At Kirwan, Shams drafted and edited policies, worked on several briefs and reports, and co-authored a forthcoming research brief titled “The Expendables: The Data Story of Essential Work and the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US.” In addition to learning directly from Dr. Darrick Hamilton, Kirwan’s executive director at the time of her internship, Shams recounted that her experience expanded her understanding of policy. “This internship deepened my understanding of some of the most popular progressive policies that are part of today’s political discourse.”

Capital building steps behind headshots of Rachel Riestenberg and Kevin Kolar

D.C. Fellowship recipients Rachel Riestenberg (left) and Kevin Kolar (right).


For a third year, DEPC partnered with the Washington, D.C., Summer Program to award fellowships to Moritz students interested in drug policy and enforcement. The fellowship partially supports their participation in the summer program. Despite having to do their work remotely, 2020 D.C. Fellows Rachel Riestenberg and Kevin Kolar agreed that their respective experiences were rewarding and vital to their understanding of the careers they each want to pursue.

Riestenberg was placed in the money laundering section of the criminal division at the Department of Justice (DOJ). At the DOJ, Riestenberg worked in asset forfeiture and banking, examined the effects of anonymous currencies like Bitcoin on the illegal drug trade, and contributed to case strategy. Though she had always had an interest in working with the federal government in banking and forfeiture, its significant overlap with drug policy was a welcomed surprise. “This fellowship gave me a reason to explore that in a way that was exciting for me.” At the Claws40 Foundation, Kolar worked on multiple projects including an internal 50-state summary of sentencing practices and multiple pieces on due process. Kolar used his employer as a resource for understanding the legal field and finding work in Washington, D.C. His fellowship illuminated a diversity of possible paths into politics.

Despite challenges, uncertainty, and adjustments to remote work, this diverse group of students proved invaluable to the center, its faculty, and a selection of partner organizations. With the help of students, DEPC expanded its research output and strengthened its partnerships. The center hopes student experiences were as valuable as their contributions. “DEPC faculty and staff were all fortunate to benefit from the hard work and thoughtful insights that defined student summer support,” said Professor Berman.