As the age of marijuana prohibition evaporates before our eyes like a bag of ditch weed belonging to a surly undergraduate art school dropout, lawyers across the country are waking up to find that the rest of society is (for whatever reason) expecting us to explain the extent of weed’s legality. Given that this task itself is a goddamn nightmare thanks to the ridiculous intransigence of the federal government, it is especially awesome to consider what constitutes an “ethical” relationship between this still quasi-legal industry and us, the esteemed and sober attorneys.
Recently Alaska, one of the newest states to legalize recreational pot, took up the task of developing ethical guidelines for lawyers in their state. Specifically the Alaska Bar Association is seeking to answer whether it is ethical for members to “get involved” with a pot business, advise clients how to open a pot business, or (shudder) smoke pot themselves.
Now I’m just a simple country baby lawyer in SoCal looking to open a firm practicing marijuana law, so I have a vested interest in making sure that guidelines like these fairly protect lawyers like myself as we seek out this new client base. So here are my proposed guidelines to answer those three important questions.
Can an attorney ethically get involved in a marijuana business?
So because pot is still
obviously mostly probably illegal in its entirety under Federal law, there exists a conflict between new state regulations recognizing certain acceptable forms of pot distribution and that whole supremacy clause thing. This conflict therefore makes it very easy to simply conclude that attorneys should avoid becoming employees of business that seek to exploit this infuriating void in the law. However, lawyers across the country are experiencing a persistent employment crisis, and the prospect of a cushy in-house job with the neighborhood “healing center” or a Bill and Ted’s Pot Shack will be pretty hard to turn down.
With all that in mind, here is are my three proposed guidelines for an attorney looking to “get involved” with a pot business:
- Wear a ridiculously pretentious suit every day to work. Looking like someone who takes pot as seriously as the in house counsel at Exxon regards sweet crude futures will be extraordinarily helpful for affirming the legitimacy of your business in the eyes of the law. Your opponents in litigation will also be caught off guard when you show up in court in something that isn’t made out of industrial hemp.
- Be the Debbie Downer in the corporate meetings. Your coworkers are inherently going to be enthusiastically jumping into this newish industry with the glee of someone trying a Green Hornet for the first time. DESTROY that optimism as soon as you can by harshing everyone’s mellow with the cold reality of our country’s dumb and nonsensical approach to regulating drugs. Your colleagues will start sarcastically calling you “MOM” but they’ll appreciate your counsel when their competitors spend an inordinate amount of time talking to the cops.
- Don’t get high off your own supply. Guess what? You’re involved in the business of producing and distributing a controlled substance. Therefore Scarface rules apply EVEN IF your job is mostly figuring out the proper warning labels for weed-infused peanut brittle.
Can attorneys ethically advise clients on how to operate a business while complying with state law?
So what if you want to sponge off of a new client base, but you are also worried about prospect of how being the “pot lawyer” will affect your membership at the country club? Well, luckily for you the ethical query into whether you can advise clients about how to properly comply with state law while pretty blatantly violating federal law is much clearer when not the entity looking to enter this legal morass. Nevertheless, because someone is awful enough to think that providing legal advice somehow makes a lawyer an accessory to a crime, here are my three proposed ideas for avoiding the dumbest bar disciplinary hearing of all time.
- When advising clients, use the phrase “by the way this is still illegal under federal regulations” like a comma. In fact you should probably get it translated into Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Russian, Yiddish, Tagalog, Mandarin, and Khmer just to be safe. Maybe make one of those infographic posters like the ones that businesses have to post in a break room advising employees of the minimum wage. Better yet, WALLPAPER that phrase all over your office.
- Always order two sets of business cards. One set should be the regular professional ones that you hand to your boring clients looking to duck child support or create a will that disinherits their least favorite nephew. The other business cards, as a MATTER OF THE HIGHEST ETHICAL IMPORTANCE must incorporate some clichéd part of weed culture. Cards shaped like a giant leaf are a good start, but a zealous representative will order some branded kief grinders. You’re part of the first generation of attorneys engaged in a practice that sounded like a bad joke in the 70’s. Have some fun with it for fucks sake.
- Don’t get paid in weed. It just looks bad.
Is it ethical for attorneys to use marijuana?
The answer to this question was more or less obvious even before the age of legalization began. That said, the march to social acceptance and governmental recognition has changed some of the circumstances behind this possible conflict. As a result, bar associations should adopt guidelines like these in order to ensure a profession full of zealous (but slightly buzzed) attorneys.
- Sativas only. Especially if you are mainly dealing with 42 USC §1983 litigation, your brain needs to be more or less crisp. Therefore stay away from indicas or hybrids that will leave you couch locked. Ask your clients (or your nearest rude teenager) about what strains to stick with.
- Pot should not only be allowed for the vast majority of attorneys, it should be REQUIRED for legal aid attorneys, public defenders, or people representing parents in dependency court. Seriously smoke all you need to keep working for no money in service to people facing systemic violence and oppression. You’re doing god’s work and you need some sort of respite that doesn’t leave you with a hangover. That said…
- District Attorneys and US Attorneys are per se banned from ever ingesting weed. Seriously fuck you guys. Hope y’all enjoyed 30 years of job security and easy cases with the drug war. Now you can watch everyone else having a good time and being chill from the sidelines, you Fourth Amendment-shredding narc bastards.
[Post image from Shutterstock]