What’s that sound?
Off in the distance, the mighty sound of hoofbeats, kicking up a storm of dust. Gucci-clad men and women with white cowboy hats emerge from the surge, here to provide their best legal advice and services: It’s the arrival of the lawyers unto the still nascent cannabis commerce scene!
For the better part of 40 years in America, when the words “marijuana” and “lawyer” were used in the same sentence, someone had been busted and was going to court.
However today, with over two dozen states with some kind of state-sanctioned cannabis commerce (recreational or therapeutic access), regulation, and taxation, it would seem self-evident that the thousands of cannabis-related businesses would have enjoyed the full and unquestioned services of lawyers to provide advice and guidance through myriad local, state and federal laws and regulations regarding “cannabis” commerce.
But, among the many professional institutions that have been slow to adopt to voter-approved initiatives and legislation that move cannabis from verboten to tax and regulated commerce has been state bar associations.
With more and more states moving quickly away from long-failed cannabis prohibition policies in recent years, a number of state bar associations have issued a series of contradictory rulings for lawyers. For example, in May of this year the Nevada Supreme Court chose to hear a case regarding ethical considerations of lawyers representing ganjapreneurs.
Picture this: In one particular state bar association’s view, a lawyer who provides legal advice to a client who is seeking a state-issued cannabis license is viewed as being the equivalent of a lawyer providing contraband tips to a smuggler, or working to hide illegal assets derived from sale of illegal drugs. In another state, maybe right next door, the state bar association has ruled that lawyers are permitted to aid and assist legitimate business interests, and that may well include cannabis-related businesses.
While most state bar associations in states with either medical cannabis and/or recreational have constructed some kind of legalistic toehold for the legal profession to both provide counsel and take part as minority owners in cannabis-related companies (as long as they’re not in business with their legal clients), all stress that while the attorney and the client, although maybe in compliance with local and state cannabis laws and regulations, are still subject to federal law enforcement actions and enforcement.
- With nearly a billion dollars in annual sales from tax and regulated cannabusinesses now being derived from a handful of states, it is self-evident that lawyers too would be an integral and obvious part of today’s modern “green rush;” and,
- Dozens of major law firms now taking on cannabis clients for regulatory compliance, land use law, taxation, bankruptcies, intellectual property rights and venture capital will continue to grow exponentially right along America’s fastest growing and “new” industry (as if selling weed is a new concept or industry).
Allen St. Pierre is the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in Washington, D.C., norml.org