By: Mike Vitiello
Marijuana law is one of the fastest-growing areas of the law in most states throughout the country. California is no exception, particularly since the state’s voters passed Proposition 64 in the November 2016 election, legalizing recreational use of marijuana for adult users. Since then, the state has established new agencies, which in turn have promulgated many new rules to regulate recreational use of marijuana when sales go “live” in January 2018.
With this recent legitimization of marijuana use, the field of “marijuana law” has developed significantly since its previous days as essentially a niche of criminal defense. In states like Colorado, Washington, and now California that have legalized recreational marijuana, individuals in the marijuana business need legal advice on many aspects of the trade – from contract negotiation to licensing applications and insurance issues. Not only is the area developing for private marijuana law practice, but several of these state agencies are hiring as well, including the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the Department of Health, and CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing.
The emerging field of marijuana law is not without a few wrinkles, however. Most notable is the fact that marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that use or possession of the drug in any form and in any amount remains illegal under federal law, regardless of state law. The Obama administration’s tolerance of state legalization can easily be reversed by the Trump administration. Given this balance, lawyers in the field of marijuana law can face professional responsibility issues as to how they advise their clients – a basic tenet of attorney ethics is never to advise one’s client to engage in a violation of the law.
Despite the uncertainty with the new administration’s approach to marijuana, the field prevents many opportunities for lawyers as the new legalization regime develops and becomes more established.