For years, criminal defensive attorneys made comfortable livings defending clients against marijuana-related charges. But as cannabis legalization spreads the U.S., the legal profession now finds itself undergoing a sea change of its own. Lawyers who once practiced on one side of the marijuana issue are now being recruited to represent clients involved in all aspects of the legal cannabis trade.
And, as more states legalize cannabis, and a burgeoning industry spreads its wings, lawyers will be tasked with sorting through the legal milieu. Here are a just a few ways the legal profession is now being shaped as marijuana legalization “grows”.
Cannabis Licensing and Regulation
Every state that’s legalized cannabis now has its own set of laws regulating how it’s grown, sold, distributed, and taxed. Lawyers are needed to interpret how those laws impact clients including growers, dispensaries, pharmacies and end users. At present, attorneys are being asked to provide cannabis-focused legal services related to:
- Advising clients about state cannabis laws
- License applications and renewals
- Defending clients against alleged license abuses
- Day-to-day business operations
Marijuana Business Financing and Taxation
Most new businesses require start-up capital, and within the cannabis industry lawyers are helping entrepreneurs secure loans, or otherwise obtain financing through private equity firms. States with legal marijuana sales have seen billions of dollars created, taxed or deposited at banks. Colorado alone has realized roughly $6 billion dollars in legal marijuana sales since it was first legalized in 2014. (¹) Good business attorneys are needed to ensure their clients aren’t breaking any federal banking laws, as marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 illicit drug by the feds.
For one, federal banking laws prohibit illegal drug money laundering. That means financial institutions in states like Colorado could potentially violate federal banking laws when processing credit card transactions for, or accepting cash from, cannabis businesses. As a result, many financial institutions and marijuana-related business owners are now hiring lawyers that specialize in cannabis laws to protect them from scrutiny.
Workplace Cannabis Laws
Because marijuana is still considered illegal by the U.S. government, if you’re an employer in a state where cannabis is now legal, how do you balance federal employment laws, including the Drug-Free Workplace Act (DFWA), with an employee’s state-mandated right to use marijuana on their personal time?
In 2015, Colorado’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling (Coats v. Dish Network) that found that an employer, in this case Dish Network, had the legal right to dismiss an employee based on company policies prohibiting marijuana use for all workers, and in accordance with the DFWA.(²) In other words, at least in Colorado employers still reserve the right to establish their own drug testing and termination policies as long as they don’t violate worker protections afforded by the federal government.
As a result, employment lawyers versed in current state and federal marijuana laws are being asked to represent:
- Employees that feel they have been wrongly dismissed by employers for cannabis use while on their personal time
- Employers in legalized marijuana states who have been accused by the federal government of violating the DFWA
- Workers residing in legalized cannabis states who cross state lines while engaging in job-related activities, and are then charged with a marijuana possession and distribution crime under the laws of another state or the federal government
Find Legal Recruiters with Marijuana Legalization Attorney Openings
As cannabis legalization spreads, bright lawyers will be needed to represent and defend the legal interests of employers, workers, and entrepreneurs. Better legal recruiters understand the impact of new marijuana laws on the legal profession, and how to bring potential employers and lawyer candidates together when opportunities arise. Seasoned recruiters have the legal connections, communication networks, and attorney screening capabilities to reliably serve the interests of all parties involved. Search your state now to find a legal recruiter in your area.
- Marijuana Sales Reports; Colorado Department of Revenue; January 25, 2019 (colorado.gov/pacific/revenue/colorado-marijuana-sales-reports)
- Legal Issues: Marijuana in the Workplace; National Association of Colleges and Employers; (http://www.naceweb.org/); February 1, 2016