Local officials who need legal advice on most day-to-day issues can generally go to their City or County Attorney's Office. And when public health workers need to know how to develop, implement and enforce sound policy and law, they can find specialized assistance from the staff and student attorneys of UM Carey Law's Public Health Law Clinic, headed by Kathleen Hoke, Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation, Litigation and Advocacy.
Recently, the Worcester County Health Department was concerned about the increasing use of synthetic marijuanas, such as K2, in Ocean City, Maryland. Clinic students researched the authority of local governments and the ways other jurisdictions have dealt with the rise of these drugs. Ultimately the City Council and Worcester County Commissioners voted to ban the substances.
The Public Health Law Clinic has provided this type of legal assistance on a variety of public health issues. Student attorneys have helped Harford County clarify the impact of federal law on its ability to require restaurants to disclose nutrition information; they have also advised the Cecil County Tobacco Coalition on how best to enforce the County's prohibition on tobacco sales to minors.
The Clinic provides excellent experience for students who aspire to legislative or policy work. They draft legislation, conduct research on the public health powers of towns and counties, and identify effective public health practices throughout the country. In the process, students gain an acute understanding of the interplay between federal, state, and local government, says Hoke, and they learn to work collaboratively with other disciplines, such as medicine and law enforcement. Students also develop creative problem-solving skills, Hoke observes. This is especially true today, when reduced state and municipal funding has inspired the Clinic to work creatively to develop cost-free policies, she says.
Recent Clinic alumni have taken positions with the Maryland Department of Legislative Services and with individual legislators. Others have entered the federal sector and are working at the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products.
The Clinic has worked in every county in Maryland as well as Baltimore City: it truly provides service statewide. The policies that have resulted from the Clinic's assistance have reduced youth smoking and involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke.
Witnessing the results of their work is especially valuable for students, Hoke says: they see the role that law can play to resolve public health problems and to build solutions for the real world.
Rachel W. W. Granfield