Colorado Supreme Court says lawyers can legally advise cannabis businesses


The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that Colorado attorneys can advise medical and recreational marijuana shops to follow state laws, even though such laws are in complete contradiction to federal laws that Colorado attorneys all vow to uphold. Back in December, the Colorado Bar Association had released a formal opinion that attorneys were not allowed to counsel dispensary owners “in structuring or implementing transactions which by themselves violate federal law.” Basically, that meant attorneys couldn’t help draft contracts or advise their clients how to run a legal medical or recreational dispensary.
All that changed Monday.

According to the Supreme Court decision, Colorado attorneys can “counsel a client regarding the validty, scope and measure [of Colorado constitutional law]and 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 or local provisions implementing them.” The rule change also requires that attorneys advise their clients that what they are doing remains federally illegal.
The decision makes sense considering no attorneys have faced any sanctions to date for taking on dispensary owners as clients, and state courts have allowed attorneys to represent clients in such cases for years now. Several attorneys also argued at a public hearing earlier this year that their legal expertise was needed to make sure the regulations are followed and federal drug warriors are kept at bay.
The ruling Monday basically formalized a practice already in place. But indirectly, it protects state leaders and attorneys from sanctions as well. As Colorado cannabis attorney Warren Edson pointed out last December, it’s not just the attorneys who are directly assisting dispensaries who needed to be concerned: attorneys helping to write regulations and even elected officials could have run afoul of the CBA regulations.
“If you want to work down the chain, many of the Colorado state legislators who signed off on [marijuana bills]are attorneys — so, by the committee’s logic, they’d be assisting people in getting around federal law,” Edson told Westword back in December. “And Bill Ritter, the governor who signed 1284 [the main MMJ regulatory measure]used to be Denver’s district attorney, and I assume he still has a law license. So he helped break federal law, too.”