CEB Develops New Resource for Rapidly Changing Area of Law

Cannabis law is an intriguing practice area, with laws, rules, and legal interpretations changing rapidly.  CEB has developed a useful resource for attorneys helping their clients navigate in this novel industry that is governed by numerous and contradictory laws.  As of July 1, 2015, nearly half of the states have legalized medical cannabis, and four of those states as well as the District of Columbia have also legalized recreational marijuana.  The numbers of states in both categories are primed to increase in the coming years.  Yet, the federal government continues to schedule cannabis as an illegal substance having no medical value.

As legal cannabis becomes more prevalent in America, attorneys in diverse disciplines will find their clients, directly or tangentially, facing new issues involving cannabis, its use, and its commerce.  In this rapidly evolving environment, attorneys encountering cannabis-related issues should make themselves familiar with the state of the law.

Once the exclusive domain of criminal defense attorneys, legal issues regarding cannabis now confront attorneys in a wide variety of contexts, including landlord-tenant and other real estate matters, business transactions, tax law, and regulatory and compliance topics, among others.  The concerns for practitioners in this area are further complicated by the federal posture denying the medical efficacy of cannabis and maintaining its illegality in almost all circumstances under federal law.  Consequently, by advising a client regarding how to comply with state cannabis laws, an attorney could theoretically be prosecuted federally on charges such as conspiracy, aiding and abetting, or accessory to a crime.  Note, however, that the federal government has never prosecuted a lawyer for helping a client navigate state cannabis laws; although that theoretical risk still remains, there have been recent successful efforts in Congress to prevent federal interference with the implementation of state cannabis laws.

Attorneys taking on a cannabis matter for the first time typically report a lack of reputational damage they had feared might accompany working for a client in this controversial field.  Such fears stem from the fact that a century of marijuana demonization has taken its toll on the American psyche.  Indeed the term “marijuana” itself was coined from Mexican Spanish slang precisely to obfuscate the fact that marijuana was the very same drug which, under its scientific and medical name “cannabis,” was an extremely common ingredient in patent medicines at the time, and which was widely known, under its English name “hemp,” for utility in a wide variety of applications.

As marijuana emerges from stigmatization and becomes increasingly mainstream, the public perception of lawyers and others involved with the cannabis industry will raise no further concern than does the perception of businesses involved in any other legal commodity.  I salute CEB for its foresight in developing this timely and helpful cannabis law resource.


Robert A. Raich practices law in Oakland, California, where he specializes in medical cannabis law, business law, political law, and lobbying.

Mr. Raich was the attorney in both of the U.S. Supreme Court cases ever to consider medical cannabis issues. He was a member of the California Attorney General’s Medical Marijuana Task Force (Chairman, Caregiver Issues Subcommittee), and he has taught classes on medical cannabis to cadets at Police Department Police Academies, as well as continuing education classes to other lawyers. He is a Founding Board member of the newly launched National Cannabis Bar Association.

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