The following is a guest blog post by Allison B. Margolin, a partner at Margolin and Lawrence in Los Angeles. Ms. Margolin practices criminal defense and civil litigation in both state and federal court.
California’s new law legalizing recreational marijuana has attracted people from all walks of life to the industry. In turn, this will bring new clients to attorneys. But before you represent clients in marijuana-related businesses, consider these tips.
- Do meet your clients in person. When I was a new lawyer, my father told me a cautionary tale about a lawyer who arrived at court to represent his new criminal client at a jury trial and discovered to his horror and dismay that the client had a large swastika on his forehead. It’s critical that you meet your client in person before deciding to represent him or her. Once you’ve seen your client, you’ll have some understanding of who you’re dealing with or at least the way that person is seen publicly. And don’t make assumptions based on how “clean cut” or, in the alternative, how hippie-looking he or she looks. Any undercover officer can dress up or down, and you want to advise in such a way that it doesn’t matter.
- Do keep up with the law. Any attorney getting involved with representing clients in the marijuana industry should have a thorough knowledge of the state’s current medical marijuana law and stay alert for future marijuana regulations. In addition, know the Health and Safety Code sections that encompass the current and future marijuana laws. It’s also important to know federal law and to keep abreast of any updates by the California State Bar on guidelines for marijuana law advising.
- Do say “No, it’s a federal crime.” Don’t consider any activity that may be construed as a federal crime, no matter how small. And let clients fill out their own applications; you don’t need to help them commit a federal crime. You can, however, quote a true retainer and/or fixed fee for being available to represent the client for a period of time and/or to keep the client abreast of updates on local, state, and federal law relating to marijuana.
- Don’t get personally involved. Even though California state law offers a defense to marijuana sales (and to making hash oil in limited situations), the law only allows a defense to those activities if the state distributes licenses for them. And any marijuana activity is still proscribed by the federal government. This means that, though you may consult with clients on what the city, state, and federal law allow, you shouldn’t participate in owning marijuana dispensaries or having any ownership in marijuana distribution or cultivation operations, either on or off paper. Attorneys have been indicted for their involvement in marijuana distribution even in places where marijuana sales for profit is allowed. You don’t want to go from lawyer to client.
- Don’t get lulled by seemingly sympathetic clients. Spending my life around “marijuana people” (activists and criminal defense attorneys), I can confidently say that these are the archetypal wolves in sheep’s clothes. Many have operated in the grey for years and developed skills for doing so. Don’t be lulled into treating them differently just because their product is often viewed as benign or because you’re sympathetic to marijuana legalization (as I am).
The most important things you can do is provide access to information and keep yourself out of trouble.
Hear Ms. Margolin speak at CEB’s upcoming live program Criminal Prosecution and Defense of Marijuana Businesses in San Francisco on March 30th or join us on the Livecast. And keep up with this fast-changing area of law with CEB’s MJ Law Hub.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find interesting:
- Marijuana Legalization: What’s on the Horizon for California Employers?
- Can a Tenant Be Evicted for Using Medical Marijuana?
- Should We Worry about Marijuana DUIs?
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