2018 Winners

First Place:  Steven Perlmutter, High Times Ahead: Products Liability in Medical Marijuana

Second Place:  Celeste Robertson, When Bitcoins Buy Opioids: Why Amending the Federal Money Laundering Statutes is Necessary to Combat the Opioid Crisis

The Ross-Blakley Law Library at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is pleased to announce the 2018 recipients of the Ross-Blakley Law Library Award for Exemplary Student Research. Steven Perlmutter is the first place award recipient for his paper High Times Ahead: Products Liability in Medical Marijuana. Perlmutter received his JD degree from ASU Law and is now pursuing an LLM degree. Celeste Robertson takes second-place honors for her paper When Bitcoins Buy Opioids: Why Amending the Federal Money Laundering Statutes is Necessary to Combat the Opioid Crisis.  Robertson is a 2L. Their papers demonstrate sophistication and originality in the use of research materials, exceptional innovation in research strategy, and skillful synthesis of research results into a comprehensive scholarly analysis.  A review panel comprised of librarians Victoria Trotta and Beth DiFelice and Clinical Professor Kimberly Holst selected the winners from a number of very competitive entries.

Steven Perlmutter wrote his paper for his products liability class. He says his first challenge was his lack of knowledge about products liability. He needed to learn the basics quickly, but the casebook was 884 pages long so he borrowed Products Liability in a Nutshell, a concise but detailed summary of the subject, from the library and read it twice. 

The second challenge, Perlmutter noted, was the complete absence of any law review articles or published cases on his subject. A unique approach helped him further his research. He located a continuing legal education video presentation, reviewed it, called the attorney, and obtained her notes containing some useful background information. The absence of any scholarship led Perlmutter to realize that his paper would consider a novel area of the law; therefore, it would require predominantly original theories and constructions.

He divided his research into two major sections - medical marijuana and products liability law. He researched the salubrious and adverse effects of medical marijuana using Google to identify magazine and newspaper articles and Google Scholar to locate the medical literature. After reviewing summary articles in Journal of the American Medical Association and New England Journal of Medicine, he located original sources in the pain, pharmacology, addiction, obstetrical, mental health, and pediatric literature. He obtained information from the National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Mental Health websites. Newspaper and magazine articles cited unpublished medical marijuana liability cases. Using these citations, he located the actual complaints and decisions from Westlaw trial documents and court websites.

Next, he considered products liability for pharmaceuticals, alcohol, tobacco, and nutritional supplements. Cases were gleaned from the casebook and nutshell, followed by numerous natural language searches of state and federal cases in Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg. He located relevant restatements of torts and uniform commercial codes for products liability. Cases, restatements, and statutes were used to explore the potential liability theories of manufacturing defects, defective design, failure to warn, and warranty with respect to medical marijuana. Perlmutter took his research and theories and went way beyond databases and print materials by questioning marijuana growers, manufacturers, and retailers at the Southwest Cannabis Conference in Phoenix on October 12, 2017. He accessed state health department and legislative websites to find state statutes and proposed legislation as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) websites to review drug scheduling, memos, and advisory opinions.

Steven Perlmutter’s extensive use of traditional and non-traditional resources and his exhaustive research paid off big. His paper was accepted for publication by Health Matrix: Journal of Law-Medicine, Case Western Reserve University School of Law.  Perlmutter says he learned one important fact. “It is challenging and time-consuming to research a new area of the law, but the opportunity to write about and publish a paper that is truly original makes the effort worthwhile.”  We agree. Well done Steven.

Celeste Robertson chose to research the role of bitcoin in the opioid crisis after reading an article in the New York Times. The article detailed how drug dealers have flocked to the dark web to sell deadly opioids in exchange for bitcoin. Robertson was shocked to learn how drug dealers are exploiting bitcoin and flooding the American market with synthetic opioids.  She pondered what legal options were available for prosecutors trying to combat the dark web opioid trade. After reading the relatively few cases involving the prosecution of opioid dealers, she learned the current federal money laundering statutes provide a loophole because they do not include bitcoin within the definition of “money.” Because this loophole resulted in the dismissal of money laundering charges in some cases, she searched for information that supported her argument that federal money laundering statutes need to be amended to successfully prosecute dark web opioid dealers.

Given the widespread media attention on both bitcoin and the opioid crisis, there were countless sources to sift through. Some of the most useful information Robertson found came from law enforcement agencies, legislative committees, and other public entities. Press releases from the United States Attorney’s Office provided insight into the charges filed against dark web opioid dealers. Reports issued by the Drug Enforcement Agency detailed the importance of money laundering charges in disrupting the dark web drug trade. Testimony from legislative hearings was especially helpful in understanding how experts viewed bitcoin and the opioid crisis, and what actions Congress had taken. Robertson says these sources, in addition to information from the Center for Disease Control, were invaluable to her research.

Perhaps the most challenging part of the research and writing process was grasping the concept of bitcoin and explaining the concept in an easy-to-understand manner. Because of this, a large portion of her research process was spent reading books and articles on the technology behind bitcoin. An equivalent amount of time was then spent on condensing this information into an explanation that most readers could easily understand. Robertson explains, “Although this portion of my comment took the most time and effort to write, it was well worth it to effectively convey the concept of bitcoin to my readers.”

In writing her comment, Robertson says she learned a great deal of substantive information, but also learned a lot about the research and writing process. Most importantly, she says, “I learned that research does not end once you start writing. Many developments occurred in the opioid crisis while I was writing my comment. This meant I had to continuously check my sources and revise portions of my comment to ensure I had the most up-to-date information.” Robertson goes on to say, “Although writing my comment was a long and demanding process, it was also the most rewarding experience I have had in law school.”  We are glad to hear that Celeste.