Just as entrepreneurs getting into the retail pot industry need a good lawyer, some of those lawyers might be wise to consult an attorney of their own.
Lawyers in the burgeoning business are entering a legal gray zone where the drug is permitted for some purpose in most states but illegal under federal law — in the same controlled substances category as heroin. Missteps could lead to prosecution for conspiracy, money laundering or aiding and abetting drug dealers.
“Any lawyer that goes into this should be aware that a literal reading of federal law permits such a prosecution,” said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver marijuana policy law professor, whose research five years ago found lawyers more susceptible to being disbarred than criminally charged for cannabis-related work. “It probably makes sense for a lawyer to at least talk to a legal ethicist or get an opinion from a legal ethicist.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated his opposition to legal weed on Wednesday, and a congressional amendment prohibiting federal prosecutors from targeting medical marijuana is due to expire at the end of the year.
Sessions has not said if he will reverse a longstanding Justice Department policy not to interfere with purveyors complying with state laws but to focus prosecutions on trafficking, sales to minors, cartels and gangs in the business, violence or gun use in cultivation or distribution, and pot grown on public land.
Despite a few instances of lawyers being prosecuted in federal and state court — including a pending San Diego County case — more attorneys are jumping into cannabis law. Legal needs range from financing to permits, real estate, water law, intellectual property, contracts and banking.
With California allowing recreational pot retail sales Jan. 1, interested investors are reaching out to attorneys like Mitch Kulick to find