12 August 2016
Cleveland.com report that lawyers in the state are still waiting for answers ..
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s new medical marijuana law prohibits disciplining professionals for working with marijuana businesses or patients, but it’s not clear whether that applies to attorneys.
Only the Ohio Supreme Court can discipline licensed attorneys. Lawyers have submitted at least two requests for formal opinions on the matter to the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct.
They want to know:
- whether lawyers may represent marijuana cultivators, processors, dispensaries, patients and caregivers.
- whether lawyers may own or operate medical marijuana businesses.
- whether lawyers may use medical marijuana.
Board staff members plan to issue recommendations to the board in August. The board is asking for attorneys with other questions to submit them before July 11.
What’s the issue?
The new medical marijuana law allows people with about two dozen qualifying medical conditions to buy and use marijuana if recommended by a licensed Ohio physician. The law sets up a tightly regulated industry where the state awards licenses to grow, process, test and sell marijuana.
The law stipulates professional license holders — which would include attorneys — cannot be disciplined “solely for engaging in professional or occupational activities related to medical marijuana.”
But the court’s professional board operates under Supreme Court rules, which allow it to issue nonbinding advisory opinions in response to prospective or hypothetical questions about the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct.
Ohio rules prohibit attorneys from knowingly counseling or assisting a client to break the law and from committing an illegal act that “reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty or trustworthiness.” Although state lawmakers have made medical marijuana legal, the drug remains federally illegal.
What’s happened in other states?
Ohio was the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana, and ethics panels in most of those states have allowed attorney involvement in the marijuana industry.
The Connecticut Bar Association said attorneys who use medical marijuana within the state’s medical marijuana law do not violate the rule against engaging in illegal activity.
In Washington state, which legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012, attorneys can advise marijuana business clients, own marijuana businesses and legally purchase marijuana, according to an advisory opinion issued last year.
Neither opinion applies to federally illegal crimes nor prevents an attorney from being fired for marijuana use under an employer’s drug-free workplace policy. Ohio’s medical marijuana law also allows employers to fire workers who are medical marijuana patients if they violate employer drug-free policies.
Hawaii’s disciplinary board went a different direction. An opinion issued last year said attorneys could give legal advice about the state’s medical marijuana law. But it said attorneys could not provide legal services to help establish a marijuana business because that would be considered assisting a federal crime.