Monday, December 5, 2022
Cannabis lawyering makes the cover of the ABA Journal
I was intrigued and pleased to see that the cover story of the latest issue (December/January 2022-2023) of the ABA Journal is all about cannabis lawyering. This new piece is headlined "Lawyers are lighting up the budding cannabis industry: Justice Cannabis Co. is one of the biggest of the little guys in the rough-and-tumble, fast-paced and legally treacherous world of marijuana growing and selling."
Becuase I do not see too many really good pieces broadly reviewing the state of cannabis lawyering, I was a little disappointed that the ABAJ article is almost entirely about the practice and experience of lawyers involved with Justice Cannabis. Still, the ABAJ piece is an interesting read that covers a good bit of marijuana law along the way. Here is an excerpt:
As of early February, 37 states, three territories and the District of Columbia permitted the medical use of cannabis products. And as of November, 21 states, two territories and D.C. had approved cannabis for adult nonmedical use.
The cannabis industry generated $25 billion in revenues from legal sales in 2021 and employs more than 400,000 people nationwide. It was expected to reach $32 billion in annual sales in 2022 and could exceed $50 billion by 2030.
It can be a lucrative and fascinating area of practice, according to attorneys such as William Bogot of Fox Rothschild, who left the Illinois Gaming Board to take on cannabis work. It also can be frightening, says Lisa Dickinson of the Dickinson Law Firm in Spokane, Washington, who is chair of the ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section's Cannabis Law and Policy Committee. “It's still the wild, wild west,” she says.
The federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits the production, distribution, sale, use or possession of cannabis--which is classified alongside heroin and LSD as a Schedule I drug with a high likelihood of addiction and no safe dose. The federal statute provides no exception for medical or other uses authorized or regulated by state law. The penalties for some offenses are severe. The rapid bifurcation of state and federal law has woven deep contradictions into the legal system and American society, and it has created a thorny dilemma for cannabis businesses and the attorneys they need to help them.
For attorneys, there are two issues that have a chilling effect on their participation: The first is whether by representing a business that is breaking federal law they are violating the ethics of the profession, which could cost them their license to practice; the second is they could be charged with engaging in criminal activity, resulting in fines and prison.