Notoriously risk-adverse Big Law firms are building cannabis practice groups as a rising number of states legalize recreational and medicinal use, even though the drug remains largely banned under federal law.
Cannabis practitioners hail from a variety of specialties, reflecting the range of issues that their clients face. The lawyers have to be flexible in the rapidly changing area as voters and lawmakers act to advance—and sometimes fight—legalization.
“This is not for the weak of stomach,” said Eric Berlin, who co-leads Dentons cannabis practice and helped craft and pass the Illinois and Ohio medical cannabis laws. “You have to deal with a level of uncertainty there.”
Cannabis companies need advice on intellectual property, employment, taxes, license and regulatory compliance, lending and financial transactions, mergers and acquisitions, and a host of other specialty practice areas. That creates rich veins for lawyers to mine for billable opportunities.
“The law comes first. The expertise comes first and then you serve that industry with that. That’s what makes you a good lawyer for the industry, knowing what it is you’re talking about and applying it to the nuances of the industry,” said Shabnam Malek. The intellectual property attorney co-founded the Brand & Branch law firm in Oakland, Calif., and is the founding president of the International Cannabis Bar Association.
The legal limbo has been a stumbling block for law firms.
Attorneys “aren’t really known for a huge appetite for risk,” said Kathryn Ashton, a Dentons partner in Chicago who started the firm’s 50-lawyer practice group.
That risk aversion is subsiding now that 19 states have passed laws permitting recreational and medicinal cannabis and 34 allow medicinal use. Adding to the enticement is that the global legal market for cannabis is forecast to reach $91.5 billion by 2028, according to Grand View Research.
Published: September 21, 2021
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News