Lawyers Turn to Business of Pot

Lawyers and pot dealers have long intersected in criminal court, but as marijuana goes mainstream, attorneys have been working to keep sellers and growers legit.

Marijuana divisions are popping up at law firms to advise pot shops on where they can locate, what their websites can say and how to vet new clients.

Marijuana has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. California and more than 20 other states have legalized the drug for medical use, and the pot business has gotten a boost from more recent approvals of recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C. Pot advocates hope growth continues, as they push for voters to approve recreational pot in California, Arizona, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts next year.

The drug remains illegal under federal law, however, and the American Bar Association’s rules of professional conduct prohibit lawyers from assisting in criminal conduct.

With this in mind, attorneys say they focus on providing advice about what state marijuana laws do and don’t allow, and decline to answer questions about how clients can bend the rules.

But for law firms with other practice areas, there is also concern about how non-pot clients will view their marijuana work.

At the Seattle, Washington-based law firm of Harris Moure, the marijuana practice group has a completely separate brand – Canna Law Group – with its own website.

Marijuana law, in many ways, is no different from other legal practices, attorneys say. It involves contracts, real estate transactions, trademarks and regulatory compliance. What is unique, though, is the constant prospect of running afoul of the law.

The legal issues that come up also often have little or no precedent, said Dan Garfield, an attorney at Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher in Denver, Colorado.

Garfield, whose firm got into the marijuana field several years ago, was recently working on an appeal of a federal court’s ruling that a couple did not qualify for bankruptcy protection because their assets largely stemmed from marijuana enterprises.

For marijuana entrepreneurs, legal guidance can bring peace of mind.

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