Weed is legal in Colorado, but the state Supreme Court had to step in before the industry could avail itself of the legal system.
The court approved a rule change March 24 that removed the threat of ethics penalties for lawyers who represent marijuana clients. Under a new rule, lawyers are free to work with cannabis businesses as long as they don’t help them break state law.
Colorado voters legalized weed in 2012, and the first recreational pot shops opened Jan. 1. But marijuana remains illegal for all purposes under federal law.
The new rule, signed by Chief Justice Nancy Rice, says an attorney “may assist a client in conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes is permitted by these constitutional provisions and the statutes, regulations, orders, and other state and local provisions implementing them.”
Under the rule, lawyers are required to inform their clients about federal marijuana law.
The court’s decision could resolve a major problem for the state’s legal community. Ethics rules prohibit lawyers from helping clients break the law – whether federal or state – and a major legitimate industry was left without legal representation.
The Colorado Bar Association announced last year that anything more than the most basic legal advice to a marijuana provider could lead to disciplinary action.
Recreational pot is heavily regulated in Colorado, and lawyers are essential to dealing with the bureaucracy. An industry without good attorneys was less likely to adhere to the law.
The issue has remained a theoretical one. No Colorado attorney has been disciplined for counseling a marijuana client. But the opinion by the Bar Association sparked a push for a rule to protect attorneys.
The Supreme Court held a public hearing on the rule change in March. The state has a growing group of attorneys who specialize in weed law, and they argued that attorneys are necessary to keep the cannabis industry in compliance with Colorado’s complex regulations.