Attorneys walk by a fine line to navigate state and federal marijuana laws –

Attorneys walk by a fine line to navigate state and federal marijuana laws


LOS ANGELES (AP) – Just when entrepreneurs entering the retail industry need a good lawyer, some of these attorneys could consult their own lawyer.

Lawyers for the burgeoning business are entering a gray area where the drug is allowed for some purpose in most states, but illegal under federal law, in the same category of controlled substances as heroin. Missteps could be brought to trial for conspiracy, money laundering or help and instigate drug traffickers.

"Any lawyer who engages in this should be aware that a literal reading of the federal law allows such prosecution," said Sam Kamin, of the University of Denver's Professor of Marijuana Policy Law, whose research five Years found that lawyers were more likely to be expelled than criminal charges for work related to cannabis. "It probably makes sense for a lawyer to at least talk to a legal ethicist or get an opinion from a legal ethics specialist."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated his opposition to the legal herb on Wednesday and a congressional amendment banning federal prosecutors targeting medical marijuana will expire at the end of the year.

Sessions has not said whether it will reverse a long-standing Justice Department policy not to interfere with suppliers that comply with state laws but to focus prosecutions on trafficking, child sales, cartels and gangs in the business, violence or use of weapons in cultivation or distribution, and pots grown on public lands.

Despite some instances of lawyers prosecuted in federal and state courts, including one pending case in San Diego County, more lawyers are jumping to cannabis law. Legal needs range from financing to permits, real estate, water law, intellectual property, contracts and banking.

With California allowing recreational marijuana retail sales on January 1, interested investors are contacting attorneys like Mitch Kulick to find out how to safely finance the potentially lucrative industry.

Kulick, a New York lawyer who offers his experience in many states, recently gave his typical speech of badault to a real estate mogul about the possible legal consequences, and said that he could only help mitigate the risk a lot.

"At a certain point, you must realize that this is against the law, there is no insurance policy that eliminates the risk," Kulick told the man. "If I were already a multimillionaire, I might not take the risk."

Kulick, who once worked as a lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission and a major international firm, had to do a similar risk badysis and a deep search before deciding to commit to the higher cause, so to speak.

There has been a turning point for many lawyers who create specialized law firms and jump out of old-school law firms as the demand for their services overcomes the fear of legal repercussions and the stoner stoner fades away as more states legalize the use of marijuana.

Lawyer Chris Davis, who grew up in Berkeley with friends and family who use the drug, found people operating in the shadows who wanted to become legitimate when he returned to California from New York two years ago.

"Many people asked how to legalize themselves and how to worry less," said Davis, executive director of the National Association of Cannabis Lawyers, which has about 300 members in the United States and Canada and is growing. ng quickly. "It became impossible to reject people."

Lawyers specialized in the business see themselves at the border. That leaves a fascinating opportunity to shape laws and regulations and the daunting prospect of the unknown.

"Lawyers like the things that will be resolved," Davis said. "It's hard to get a lawyer to answer yes or no, in the cannabis industry, there really is not an affirmative or negative response."

Some state bar badociations have granted legal coverage to lawyers to counsel marijuana clients within the limits of state law. Others say that federal law keeps the area out of bounds because ethical rules prevent them from helping clients commit crimes.

Attorney Larry Donahue had several medical marijuana clients at his firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, until the Bar Association issued an opinion in January 2016 that such attorneys could be exposed to ethical charges for such work. Donahue had to cancel four or five clients.

"It was a very chilling opinion," he said. "It basically scared us."

Although the prosecution of lawyers is rare, a case in San Diego has attracted the attention of many lawyers, mainly due to the aggressive tactics employed by the district attorney.

Attorney Jessica McElfresh was charged with several crimes alleging that she helped a client hide evidence of marijuana manufacture.

The case could have received less notification if the prosecutors did not try unsuccessfully to evade the sacrosanct attorney-client privilege and seek communication with all of their marijuana clients.

McElfresh, who vehemently denies the allegations, said he knew that specialization in marijuana law carried risks, but that he could not foresee that "in a million years" the police would break into his house. She, her boyfriend and her mother were escorted to her backyard, where she was handcuffed barefoot in her pajamas during the search.

He said he did not risk the work of some lawyers sitting in the meetings of a client's company, that he owned a stake in a business or presented clients to each other.

"I am one of the most conservative and boring people you would meet in the cannabis law," he said. "The only way I could have been more careful would have been to not get involved in this area of ​​the law."

A new district attorney took office after McElfresh was indicted and allowed five co-defendants to face similar charges in pleading guilty. last month to misdemeanors and get parole.

The San Diego district attorney's office made no comment, but in a statement cited the recreational marijuana law pbaded by voters last year and the "change of focus" of the new administration as grounds for the plea agreements. It is not clear if that change will affect McElfresh's pending case.

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