Lawyers in the cannabis industry can be fined, according to Georgia’s high court
Lawyers advising companies in Georgia’s nascent medical marijuana industry could face disciplinary action under a recent state Supreme Court ruling.
Even though the sale of medical marijuana oil has been legalized in Georgia, it is still a felony under federal law, the court said. The move could wreak havoc in a highly regulated industry that relies on legal advisers.
The medical marijuana companies and their lawyers say they will overcome – or challenge – the court order.
“I think it’s going to become wallpaper,” said Sanford Posner, lawyer and co-founder of the Georgia Cannabis Trade Association. “I would be surprised if the lawyers practicing in this area did not print this decision and hang it on their wall like a red badge of courage.”
Possible penalties for lawyers found guilty of breaching professional ethics include reprimands, suspensions, or even expungement.
About 70 applicants are waiting for the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to license six companies. They will be allowed to grow and make medical marijuana oil that cannot contain more than 5% THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high.
These companies will have one year to start their activities. Each will be allowed to open five dispensaries, for registered patients suffering from illnesses such as seizures, end-stage cancers and Parkinson’s disease.
Medical marijuana oil companies need lawyers to make sure they follow Georgia’s laws, said Kevin Quirk, CEO of Harvest Connect, one of the companies that applied for a license. of state. But he said he didn’t need lawyers to run his business.
“We know how to bring quality products to Georgian patients without involving lawyers,” Quirk said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to affect us very much.”
Some states have changed their rules
What is at issue is the Georgian rule of ethics for lawyers. He says a lawyer cannot advise a client to behave in what he knows is criminal.
This creates an ethical dilemma for Georgian lawyers in the field of medical marijuana, as federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Anyone who sells enough of it can be charged with a crime and liable to death. ‘a prison sentence.
To address any potential issues, the Georgia State Bar asked the Georgia Supreme Court to pass an amendment granting exceptions to lawyers assisting clients in areas permitted by Georgian law, but who could be criminals in under another law.
In its request, the state bar noted that the medical marijuana industry is highly regulated and affects dozens of areas of law.
“It is certainly in the public interest that lawyers are involved,” the state bar filing added. “Besides the benefit for Georgian companies hoping to enter the cannabis business, lawyers can ensure that the industry is regulated as intended by the legislature; they can also ensure that the law is not abused by those who abuse it for criminal purposes. “
Of the more than 40 states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana, about half have changed their rules to allow lawyers to advise clients in the cannabis industry. Others have issued advisory opinions authorizing an exception, the bar said.
Georgia is now the fourth state to refuse an exception, joining Oklahoma, South Dakota and Mississippi, according to court records.
“This opinion creates a dilemma”
In their unanimous and unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court justices said they understood the desire of some Georgian lawyers to help the nascent cannabis industry.
“But this court has long prohibited Georgian lawyers from advising and assisting their clients in the commission of criminal acts,” said the opinion. “The passing of a Georgian law that purports to authorize and regulate behavior that constitutes federal crimes does not change this long-standing principle.”
The court noted that the state bar’s request was not limited to conduct related to medical marijuana oil. “Indeed, the proposed amendment is quite broad and may well apply to a wide range of conduct constituting a felony under federal law which simply has no corollary state criminal penalties,” said the tribunal.
Paula Frederick, the general counsel for the state bar, declined to comment.
Its former executive director Jeff Davis, who was at the state bar when the amendment was made, said the organization was simply looking for a “safe harbor” that allows lawyers to provide much-needed advice to marijuana companies. for medical purposes.
“This opinion creates a dilemma for lawyers who have advised or are considering advising Georgian companies trying to comply with state law,” Davis said. “By subjecting lawyers to disciplinary action, it potentially creates a situation where these companies cannot seek legal advice.”
Businesses would also find it difficult to retain the services of out-of-state lawyers to help them in Georgia, Davis added. That’s because many are not licensed to practice here, and even if they are, they must adhere to the same rules of professional conduct, he said.
State Representative Micah Gravley said the goal of Georgian law is to provide safe, lab-tested oil to those who need it.
“We wanted to do it legally, and we did it the right way,” said Gravley, a Republican from Douglasville who sponsored bills for medical marijuana oil. “We debated it in the halls of our Capitol, and we changed the law here in Georgia. It looks like we are meeting dam after dam when we just want to help those in need.”