Why Pot Lawyers Have More Fun

It is a lot of fun being a cannabis attorney.

For the non-attorneys reading this blog, you might not be aware of the endless ways to practice law.  For starters, you can be a litigator, a government attorney, and in-house counsel, or private practice corporate lawyer.  You could focus on family law, public housing rights, labor disputes, real estate, sports law, and yes, even marijuana.  There are some commonalities for all of these attorneys:

-We all attended multiple years of law school learning to “think like a lawyer.”

-We all have a code of ethics and professionalism to follow.

-We all know the TV show Law & Order is as accurate in depicting the practice of law, as Grey’s Anatomy is in depicting the practice of medicine. (Note – there is more overlap than you think)

Many of the lawyers I know enjoy their jobs, but they don’t love them.  Some are significantly underpaid in government or non-profit jobs, others make plenty of money but are unfulfilled by the work.

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Depending on the subject area, a lawyer may be working in a newer segment like my friends in social media or comic book law.  They may also be working on boring, super-old law that existed before any of us were born.  The lawyer may be researching insurance coverage laws, or arguing with other lawyers about the meaning behind the word “they.”

While a lawyer’s personality is the best indicator of what kind of law they will most enjoy, I would like to suggest that pot law is the most fun.

Our work is anything but boring.

Pot lawyers get the opportunity to work in the gray zone; developing an area of law with no precedent.

This is an industry that literally is forbidden by the federal government but somehow exists and is thriving in 50% of the states in the U.S.

Mind.  Blown.

Cannabis law transcends nearly every other kind of law – so a true “cannabis lawyer” actually works in many other practice areas, including corporate, litigation, regulatory, intellectual property, banking, employment, finance, product liability, and of course, criminal law.

More often than not, a legal question in the cannabis industry is answered with “I don’t know, but here is the most likely answer.”  We counsel clients on high risk activities, with the backdrop of inevitability of national marijuana reform.  We hang on every new state and local regulation, and collectively hold our breaths for when marijuana is no longer a Schedule 1 drug under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (more on that topic in future blog posts).

We are an indirect part of an movement working to right the wrongs of decades of the War on Drugs.  We work to create an industry that reflects the diversity of the community it serves.

We hear pot jokes.  Endless, mostly recycled, pot jokes.

Cannabis law is expanding into traditional companies and traditional law firms.  Before you know it, cannabis law will be mainstream and common.

Until then, just know that the pot lawyers are having the most fun.

Me, Obama, and Marijuana

To be clear, I have never simultaneously been in a room with Barack Obama, and marijuana.  I have been in a room with Barack Obama on a number of occasions.  I have been in a room with state-legal marijuana on a number of occasions.  Never at the same time.  Ever.

But POTUS and cannabis loom large in my life.  More importantly, the President’s two terms have directly led to the current state of affairs with marijuana legalization.

I first met Barack Obama in 2003 after being invited to a fundraiser by one of his University of Chicago law students.  Tickets were $20 each.  Seriously.

Obama was running for U.S. Senate in Illinois, and the fundraiser was at a beautiful home in Chicago’s Gold Coast.  We met.  We talked.  I passed out.  Not from being so impressed with him that I fainted (though I was so impressed I seriously considered dropping out of law school to go volunteer for his campaign), but from drinking wine on a hot and humid day while wearing a suit.  It was a great first impression to make on the future President of the United States of America.

Fast-forward to 2007 and Obama announces a run for the Presidency.  I was all-in.  Fired Up, Ready to Go.  Bob & Obama Announcement1

I started by raising money for him with young professionals in Chicago, moved into healthcare policy committees, and decided to bite the bullet by taking a leave of absence from my job to help manage Jewish community outreach in Florida (see “The Great Schlep“).

Yada yada yada, Obama wins Florida in ’08 (you’re welcome, Barack).

Eight years later I am proud of many of his accomplishments, and have strongly disagreed with some of his policy decisions and actions.

Still, my biggest disappointment in President Obama has been his inaction on pot.  He has nibbled around the edges with criminal justice reform, and it is well documented (admitted in his own biography) that he used marijuana and cocaine in his youth.  But after seven years, thirty-four days, nine hours, eighteen minutes and counting, the President has made it clear that he will not be stepping into to the fray and using his Executive Power to reschedule or deschedule marijuana from the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.  For background, marijuana is defined as a “Schedule 1” drug.  This means it “has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”  Marijuana, Heroin, Quaaludes.  All Schedule 1.

Is it within the power of the Presidency to fix our backwards marijuana laws?  And if yes, should he?

The answer to first question is clearly a “yes.”  The U.S. Attorney General (who reports to the President, of course), “may by rule remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.” 21 U.S.C. 811(a)(2).  The U.S. Congress also has the ability to change the Schedule 1 status of marijuana through legislation – and it actually could happen in the coming years despite our dysfunctional legislative branch.

The question of whether POTUS should reschedule marijuana to a less-restrictive Schedule or remove it altogether is a much more difficult question – one that is more political science than Neil deGrasse Tyson science.

Government executives make decisions based on prioritizing issues while considering available political capital.  Obama can’t do everything he wants on every issue he cares about: he has to choose.  He chose to fight for the expansion of healthcare coverage, he chose to invest in passing the most sweeping financial banking reform since the Great Depression, and he chose to shift our international focus away from military intervention and towards peacekeeping multilateralism.  He decided not to push for single-payer healthcare, he didn’t break up the largest banks, and he didn’t solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He did not try to reschedule marijuana.

His overall record has been mixed – and to me that is not good enough.  On the bright side, his administration has generally allowed Colorado and Washington to play out the recreational marijuana experiment (with Oregon and Alaska right behind).  That said, his U.S. Treasury guidance has been halfhearted for banks considering whether to maintain cannabis business accounts, and his DEA enforcement has been overly aggressive against some using and growing medical cannabis.  Research projects continue to face unnecessary bureaucratic delays, Obama has done little to change federal mandatory minimum sentences that disproportionately imprison minorities with petty marijuana convictions.  On the whole, marijuana policy reform has progressed in spite of, not because of, Barack Obama.

Bob & Obama & BidenI’m not saying I want my $20 back from the 2003 fundraiser, but I am saying the President will hear my objections the next time I get to talk to him.  If I don’t faint, of course.