Why Some Lawyers Won’t Work For Colorado Marijuana Businesses

Just because there's a new state law doesn't mean lawyers have new ethics guidelines

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Anthony Souffle / Chicago Tribune / MCT / Getty Images

The Denver City Council has created a special committee just for dealing with the nuts and bolts of implementing the new law allowing recreational marijuana use. And they run those meetings with a legal expert on hand. At a recent session, council members peppered a city attorney with questions about property rights and alcohol regulations and what is and isn’t legal, as they tried to make sound decisions about details like whether pot should be decriminalized for 18-year-olds. But marijuana businesses don’t necessarily have such easy access to counsel who can help them navigate these uncharted waters.

Lawyers are caught between the new state law that says marijuana is legal and federal law that still treats marijuana as an illegal drug. Earlier this year, the state bar association issued guidance saying lawyers who get deeply involved with ganga-preneurs are violating state ethics rules. Groups of local lawyers are lobbying the Colorado Supreme Court to update the guidance so they have more protection, but for now they’re operating in limbo.

“All lawyers have been aware or concerned about the ethical or legal implications of helping marijuana practitioners,” says University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin. Larger, more established firms have been wary to get involved with marijuana businesses at all, he says, “and all lawyers who do are aware of the potential pitfalls.”

Lawyers aren’t just bound to advise clients on following state law, Kamin says, but also laws in other jurisdictions; breaches of those statutes or ethical rules can lead to disbarment. The U.S. Department of Justice has said that, for now, it won’t come after businesses in Colorado and Washington that are abiding by new marijuana-friendly state statutes. But lawyers who help those businesses could still technically be prosecuted for aiding a client in breaking federal law or conspiring to break federal law, Kamin says, even if the threat of actual prosecution is “remote.”

The state Supreme Court is currently reviewing a proposed rule change, which essentially states that lawyers aren’t violating ethical guidelines if they are operating in accordance with state law, even if “that same conduct, standing alone, may violate federal criminal law.” Some local lawyers want to go further, putting it in writing that they can partake of the drug or run their own pot shops.

Even if professional conduct rules are amended at the state level, which won’t happen at least for months, lawyers aren’t completely safe unless and until federal law is changed, and members of other professions — like doctors, bankers and accountants — may find themselves in similarly sticky spots. “I don’t think the federal government is going to be arresting anyone,” Kamin says, “but as long as the cultivation and sale of marijuana is a felony, everyone is at risk.”

While that has a chilling effect on some lawyers, certain firms are embracing the budding market and making a name for themselves in the process. Take Vicente Sederberg, a firm which helped craft the ballot referendum that legalized recreational pot and brands itself as “the marijuana law firm.” The firm’s homepage makes its position clear: “Our clients are trailblazers,” it reads, “building a new and vibrant industry from scratch. Each and every one of them has made a conscious decision to assume a certain level of risk in order to change the course of history.”

And that goes for their attorneys, too.

8 comments
MiklosLegrady
MiklosLegrady

How did lawyers feel about alcohol after prohibition?  Did they not worry about the destruction of North American values?

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

State-legal pot shops also have to work strictly on cash because Mastercard, Visa and AmEx do not want to run afoul of the Federal and UN money-laundering statutes. It's pathetic. A nanny-state isn't needed, whether it is the Democratic or the Republican version.


The only drugs that should be tightly controlled are antibiotics. We need them for the war on disease. Heroin or alcohol, while intrinsically deadly, should still be personal choice. Cocaine and marijuana aren't even physically dangerous to users.

Afreedomfighter
Afreedomfighter

Show me one incident of fatal cannabis overdose, just one documented case. I have looked and looked and guess what, not one cannabis overdose death in all medical history. This medicinal herb has been used for some 20,000 years or more, all over the planet and yet no one has ever died from an overdose!  We know alcohol kills, we know tobacco kills, and we know prescription drugs kill.  The scientific data is in!!!

US CDC Figures directly from the CDC dot gov web site on numbers of deaths per year in the USA :

Prescription Drugs: 237,485

Tobacco: 81,323

Alcohol: 39,199

Marijuana 0, none, not a single death in all medical history

Sited direct from CDC dot gov. Stop the lies and Legalize

UncleAl
UncleAl

Arrest, try, convict, then imprison the whole of Colorado.  It can then engage in every act of pharmaceutical, sexual, and sadistic overage without further Federal disturbance.  (Keep Sheriff Joe Arpaio out or  your per prisoner budget will drop to near zero, the party will poop, and recidivism will be only a word.  It would ruin corruption, compassion, and further legislative regulation.)


Afreedomfighter
Afreedomfighter

@UncleAl  What a rant!  Put down your whiskey and sober up! The US Government has been lying to the people about cannabis since 1920s! Not a single overdose death from cannabis in all medical history! Tobacco, booze and big pharma kill over 350,000 US Citizens per year. The truth about cannabis is OUT and the feds will never again be able to put it back in the closet. Road trip to Colorado this summer!  

According to numbers taken directly from the FBI:  Arrests for simple possession of cannabis equate to about 50 percent of all drug arrests in the US.  Over 600,000 victims are arrested annually  and increasing every year.  Cops working overtime at our expense to persecute  cannabis users!  This results in billions of dollars in lost taxpayer revenue,  lost work time and the destruction of lives for no reason.  And most importantly the diversion of vital law enforcement energies from dealing with violent crimes.  It is now perfectly clear that cannabis is safer by far than the legal corporate sponsored alternatives which kill over 350,000 people per year in the USA.   Critical mass has been reached. The People demand legalization of cannabis. Anyone who opposes this is either a darn fool or has some financial stake in victimizing citizens like drug, private prisons,  tobacco, or booze pushing corporations.   This includes rabid dog reefer madness law enforcement making a legal killing on the nearly $750,000,000 wasted yearly on  cannabis use and trade. END THE LIES and LEGALIZE!!!!

Duncan_20903
Duncan_20903

@UncleAlyou're not trying to con people into believing that Arpaio County has lower rates of recidivism or a less expensive jail because Sheriff Joe prefers to spend his budget settling lawsuits than treating prisoners like human beings, now are you? That would be pretty silly considering how easy it is to find the evidence that Sheriff Arpaio's methods are significantly more expensive and significantly less effective than policies which don't cater to the ignorant blood lust of our knuckle dragging citizens.

Dan_Jefferies
Dan_Jefferies

@UncleAlHi Unk! First half was cool beans but the 2nd half flew right over my head....

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