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.



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.

Super Bowl High – Did the Bronco’s unwittingly boost the marijuana industry?

Over 110 Million Americans watched Super Bowl 50, saw Cam Newton hop away from his own fumble, and witnessed Beyoncé and Lady Gaga fight for the title of biggest pop star (it is clearly “Bae” “Bey”, but Gaga sure did crush the National Anthem!).  But what if the biggest news from the Sunday game was how Denver’s marijuana experiment has successfully gone mainstream – and Peyton Manning was the unwitting promoter of the marijuana industry?

I admit it is a stretch – not a single marijuana commercial aired during the game, the Broncos have not endorsed any local dispensary, and the “Mile High” Broncos stadium is referring to the altitude, not the reefer.  But hear me out…

A colleague of mine first broached this idea, and the more I’ve considered it the more I think he is on to something.

A pivotal moment in the recent evolution of cannabis policy came on August 8, 2013.  On this day, one of the country’s most well known and respected physicians, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, stepped forward to admit that he had been wrong to doubt the medical health benefits of marijuana.  Not only was he wrong, he was now a true believer of its clinical properties to help ailing adults – even children.

“[The DEA] didn’t have the science to support that [marijuana had no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse], and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works. Take the case of Charlotte Figi, who I met in Colorado. She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.

We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”

That episode, and subsequent follow-up episodes, sent the country’s support for medical marijuana through the roof.

At the time Gupta’s first episode aired, I did not foresee a dramatic impact.  After all, medical marijuana already had strong American support (polls showed 77% support already in 2011).  As a topic that I am passionately involved in, I’ve lost some perspective of how much the general public will absorb pot news. But this reached the hearts and minds of millions of viewers.  Gupta’s admission had significance – it provided the general public (and politicians) with the science to support their emotional ideology.  This was what Joe Biden would call, a “Big F***ing Deal!”

Three years later we have almost 40 states that have recreational use, medical cannabis, or “CBD-only” laws.

That brings us to the Broncos.Broncos - .sanden.

The impact of Denver bringing home a “W” is obviously less blatant or direct than Gupta’s TV specials.  Yet the Bowl has a significantly larger audience.

The most stark impact of Denver winning the Super Bowl is that absolutely no one covered the game by describing Denver as a “pot town,” or ravaged by “criminals,” or endless jokes about the town having collective munchies.  There were a few local media stories about dispensaries near Denver’s football stadium and local venues for Colorado fans to smoke weed and watch the game – but they were barely a blip on the radar.

Colorado has performed admirably under the world’s microscope, and proven the there is far more upside (medically, economically, non-violent imprisonment, etc) than risk associated with cannabis. The Broncos benefit from the media attention (I suppose their talent has something to do with it too), and have shown the country that recreational marijuana use is a non-factor for a pro football team town.

The significance of Super Bowl 50 is how Denver’s widespread and well-known cannabis culture had absolutely no significance for the 110 million viewers of the game.  And that, my friends, is progress.

Photo courtesy Flickr user .sanden. under this Creative Commons license.

Kosher Kush (it’s a real thing)

Cannabis1 - Theo Star of David - MAMJODH12959548834_ebd8c1d19a_m

There is an insatiable press appetite to write stories about cannabis.  That appetite quickly turns into an obsession when you add another hot topic into the mix – pot and guns; pot and cash; pot and politics.

The latest odd combination?  Kosher pot.  That’s right, it has come to this.  We now have national press stories extolling the kashrut elements of reefer.  Predictably, the press jumped all over the story as if Donald Trump had said…well, anything.  It was covered in Newsweek.  Vice had a piece.  Even a local Chabad weighed in.

A number of the cultivation centers and dispensaries in Illinois have Jewish owners or investors, leading me to wonder how soon we will see a hechshered Purple Kush?  I hear some Kosher Kush is already on the shelves.

Full disclosure: although I’m Jewish, I don’t keep kosher.  Yet again, I don’t eat pork (it’s long story – but I do make an exception for the Zuppa Toscana soup at Olive Garden, and anything in France).  Along comes Kosher cannabis – it’s hard to conceive a more salacious topic for me to delve into.

zuppa toscana - queennepy
Zuppa Toscana – YUM!

For those of you that don’t know, “kosher” generally refers to whether the ingredients within a product meet Jewish food preparation restrictions.  Big Mac = not kosher (mixing milk and meat).  Sausage pizza = not kosher (despite how good it tastes).  Lobster Bisque = big no-no.  But what about cannabis?  In general, a cannabis plant would be “kosher,” but it gets more complicated when you add in processing equipment, and especially when you introduce cannabis-infused foods and the ingredients have to pass muster.

I appreciated River North Chabad’s take, delving into the broader issue of Judaism’s approach to a banned substance used for medical purposes:

“Obviously, none of these reasons [of forbidden drug use] would apply in a case where a patient takes these substances following the ruling of their doctor in a controlled and legal environment. On the other end of the spectrum, they would most certainly apply to youths using illegal drugs. For those in the middle, it would be advisable that the individual present his or her case to a competent rabbi before proceeding.”

It struck me as a similar analysis that we are seeing more broadly with cannabis.  On one hand, use is still strictly prohibited by the federal government.  The U.S. Controlled Substances Act makes clear it is “not kosher.”  But if we are to consider cannabis for its medical benefits, shouldn’t we consider it “kosher” in the broader sense?

Pragmatically, there is only a sliver of the population that will be impacted by a kosher designation on pot, but I am pleased to see the dialogue intersect my religious world (Judaism) and professional world (cannabis industry).  It is a conversation I look forward to having in Illinois as the industry matures – so long as we have the conversation at the nearest Olive Garden.

Photo courtesy Flickr users Theo, MAMJODH, Quennepy, and Cannabis Culture under this Creative Commons license.