SAN FRANCISCO – In the June issue of the California
Bar Journal, reporter John Roemer discussed the growing cannabis industry
and how industry supporters in the legal profession are laying the groundwork
for the upcoming November elections that has recreational marijuana legalization
on the ballot.
Criminal defense attorney J. Tony Serra is one of those people
to intersect with marijuana and law, Roemer explained.
“Federal anti-drug laws haven’t changed, but today’s culture
and the justice system have evolved,” Roemer said. “Once a rarity, Serra is at
the forefront of the cannabis counsel vanguard, a growing set of buttoned-down
lawyers advising a new wave of cannabis entrepreneurs grappling with the
state’s marijuana regulation. A green gold rush is on, and other lawyers
besides Serra have spotted opportunity.”
Other legal supporters include Patrick Goggin and Aaron
Herzberg, who are both working to develop marijuana real estate and make sure
growers and distributors follow the current laws, as well as any upcoming laws.
Roemer offered background on how more lawyers started to
surface in favor of the cannabis industry when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a series
of bills designed to regulate medical marijuana producers, distributors and
retailers from “seed to sale” in October 2015.
“In response, the pot defense bar has expanded into a galaxy
of full-service practitioners ready to aid cannabis clients with taxes,
corporate transactions, licensing, land use and zoning problems, Proposition 65
environmental issues and the thickets of regulations enacted by local
governments.” Roemer said.
Now, 24 states have legalized medical marijuana, and recreational
use is legal in Colorado and Washington, and will likely to be on California’s
Roemer also explained that firms like Farella Braun + Martel
LLP located in San Francisco and originally a full-service firm for the wine
industry, launched a cannabis practice group to serve as outside general
counsel to marijuana industry businesses.
“The Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Ethics Opinion No.
527 similarly warns lawyers not to violate federal law but otherwise
greenlights advice regarding a client’s compliance with California’s marijuana
statutes. Last June, business attorneys announced they had established a National
Cannabis Bar Association,” Roemer said.
With so much growth and acceptance, the industry has started
to shape a lot of attorneys’ careers, like Patrick Goggin and Aaron Herzberg.
“The whole cannabis business is just shooting to the moon
now,” Goggin said to Roemer. “The new statewide regs have almost completely
transformed my practice.”
Despite the growing public and legal acceptance to the
industry, the legal issues are complex and unsettled, Herzberg told Roemer.
“One issue is that federally regulated banks won’t touch pot
money, so Herzberg’s company is involved in the alternative banking business,”
Roemer said. “This vacuum has allowed his firm to use its expertise and access
to capital to fill the needs of businesses with marijuana licenses.”
Serra further explained that marijuana’s journey towards
legalization has already changed the industry, compromising some of what he
found so positive about it in the beginning.
“I went to a cannabis business conference, and it was all
capitalism,” he said. “I didn’t smell any pot at all.”