Legal Ethics

Ethics Opinion Says Lawyers Can Assist Medical Marijuana Providers, But Adds Some Caveats

An Arizona ethics opinion says lawyers can help clients set up medical marijuana businesses, despite federal laws that bar possession and sale of pot.

The opinion by a State Bar of Arizona professional conduct committee says lawyers can provide advice on the state’s medical marijuana law and help would-be dispensaries as long as certain requirements are met, the Associated Press reports.

The issue, the opinion explains, is whether a lawyer can assist a client who wants to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows to be criminal or fraudulent. Federal law bars the manufacture, distribution or possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. The U.S. Justice Department has declared that it won’t prosecute patients and caregivers who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, although it may prosecute if there are other unusual factors, such as suspected money laundering or pot sales to minors.

The ethics opinion acknowledges the dilemma and provides caveats for any lawyer who wants to provide medical marijuana advice. A lawyer asked for legal advice must first warn the client about federal implications, or recommend the client seek legal advice on the issue, the opinion says. After the client receives full disclosure of the risks, the lawyer may help the client comply with the state medical marijuana law. The legal acts must be “necessary or desirable to assist the client to engage in the conduct that is expressly permissible” under the state law.

The opinion warns that its conclusions may be different if a court strikes down the state law or the Justice Department changes its enforcement policies.

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: “Medical Marijuana Is No Get-Rich-Quick Scheme”

ABA Journal: “Up In Smoke: Voter Reactions Have Some Saying It’s Time to Rethink Cannabis Regulation”

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