23 April 2017
If we remember rightly this is the second piece on the subject in as many weeks. Interesting to note that the media are now picking up on the fact that cannabis lawyers and practices are an integral part of the sector.
Unsurprisingly, something CLR has been saying for the last couple of years.
And now , as AM Law 200 firms start to advertise the fact that they are interested in developing cannabis practices i’m sure we’ll start to see more of these articles as their marketing departments start to get to work.
The Rise Of Cannabis Law Specialists
But this general approach to cannabis law is beginning to change. Law schools and lawyers are beginning to focus solely on weed. For example, a 2014 article in The Wall Street Journal described the rise of cannabis courses at law schools around the country.
Similarly, an article published by International Business Times in 2015 showed that cannabis law classes were becoming more specialized.
For example, some law schools offered courses that focused on defending medical marijuana patients. Others were geared more toward advising cannabis businesses.
This, along with the spread of legalization, has led many lawyers to specialize solely in cannabis law. Take for example the Canna Law Group. This company includes lawyers that operate across multiple states. They all focus on advising cannabis businesses.
Similarly, practices like the Cannabis Law Group are showing up in weed-legal states. This group focuses exclusively on helping medical marijuana businesses and patients.
Cannabis Lawyers Face Uncertainty
But there is one potential hitch in all this. Cannabis lawyers are sometimes stuck in the tension between state and federal laws. Even though 26 states plus Washington, D.C. have some form of legalized weed, it’s still illegal at the federal level. And this can create problems for cannabis lawyers.
In fact, The American Bar Association Journal recently wrote about these problems. Citing a ruling in Ohio, the ABA suggested that cannabis lawyers who advise clients to break federal laws might be in violation of ethics rules.
But the article quickly added: “There does not appear to be an active movement to start punishing lawyers working in the marijuana field.”
Cannabis lawyers have mostly gone unpunished thanks to the Cole Memo. In 2013, then-deputy attorney general James Cole issued a memo about cannabis law. In essence, he said that federal agents should not interfere with cannabis activity that follows state laws.
The Final Hit
As long as the Cole Memo is upheld, cannabis lawyers can safely advise and represent clients involved with legal weed. But it is unclear what will happen under Trump’s administration.
Earlier this year, White House press secretary Sean Spicer hinted at a federal crackdown. He said there could be “greater enforcement” of federal weed laws.
A short time later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke out against cannabis. He said weed is “only slightly less awful” than heroin. He also said that medical marijuana “had been hyped, maybe too much.”
But Sessions also hinted that he might uphold the Cole Memo. “The Cole memorandum set up some policies under President Obama’s Department of Justice . . . much of which I think is valid,” he said.
So how will all this affect cannabis lawyers? David B. Axelrod, a lawyer who spoke with the ABA, said cannabis lawyers should be fine.
With more “states permitting the . . . use of marijuana in some form,” he said, “the train has left the station. It’s too late for the federal government” to enforce weed laws.
If that is true, then we can expect to see even more cannabis lawyers setting up shop as the legal cannabis industry continues to expand.