Attorneys working with the cannabis industry in Nevada and elsewhere have long been in a somewhat “gray” area when advising clients violating federal law as federal preemption over state law potentially creating an ethics issue. Attorneys are not supposed to help their clients commit crimes, and since medical cannabis is still illegal federally, attorneys ran the risk of violating ethics rules that govern the attorney profession.
It’s worth noting that there hasn’t been a witch hunt against attorneys that counsel medical marijuana businesses. However, the fact that there’s even the possibility of an ethics violation has sent a chilling effect throughout the legal field. This has hindered the marijuana industry because some attorneys have refused to work with marijuana businesses while others would only work with such businesss in a a very limited capacity, such as helping with a lease (but not help with anything that remotely related to sales, such as a contract with a vendor).
The State of Nevada has recently amended the rules that govern their attorneys, allowing them to work with the industry. Per Las Vegas Review Journal:
“The new comment, added unanimously by the six members of the court who heard the request for guidance from the Nevada State Bar, says “a lawyer may counsel a client regarding the validity, scope and meaning of Nevada constitution Article 4, Section 38” which addresses the voter approved medical marijuana law.
“The comment also says a lawyer “may assist a client in conduct the lawyer reasonable believes is permitted by theses constitutional provisions and statutes, including regulations, orders, and other state or local provision implementing them. In these circumstances, the lawyer shall also advise the client regarding related federal law and policy.”
This is very significant for the emerging medical cannabis industry in Nevada. Nevada is in the process of issuing licenses for state-regulated dispensaries, which will hopefully open by the end of this year. Medical cannabis laws in Nevada are complex and it is an expensive process, and having the right to hire an attorney is vital to these businesses’ success. Hopefully more states follow suit and provide clarity for their state-licensed attorneys.