Lawyers in the cannabis industry can be sanctioned

Approximately 70 applicants are waiting for the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to issue licenses to six companies. You are allowed to grow and manufacture medical marijuana oil that cannot contain more than 5% THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high.

These companies have one year to start operating. Anyone can open five pharmacies to care for registered patients suffering from conditions such as seizures, terminal cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

Medical marijuana oil companies need lawyers to make sure they are complying with Georgia’s laws, said Kevin Quirk, CEO of Harvest Connect, one of the companies that have applied for a state license. But he said he didn’t need lawyers to run his business.

“We know how to provide quality products to patients in Georgia without involving the lawyers,” Quirk said. “Personally, I don’t think it will affect us very much.”

Some states have changed their rules

It’s about Georgia’s code of ethics for lawyers. It states that a lawyer cannot advise a client to behave that the lawyer knows is criminal.

That creates an ethical dilemma for Georgia medical marijuana attorneys, as federal law classifies marijuana as a List 1 drug. Anyone who has sold enough of them can face a crime and face jail time.

To resolve potential issues, the State Bar of Georgia asked the Supreme Court of Georgia to pass an amendment granting exemptions to attorneys who assist clients in areas that are allowed under Georgian law but might be criminal under another law .

In its motion, the State Bar noted that the medical marijuana industry is highly regulated, affecting dozens of areas of law.

“It is certainly in the public interest that lawyers are involved,” added the prosecutor. “Aside from the benefits for Georgian companies hoping to get into the cannabis business, lawyers can ensure that the industry is regulated as intended by lawmakers; You can also ensure that the law is not abused by those who would use it for criminal endeavors. “

Of the more than 40 states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana, about half changed their rules to allow lawyers to advise clients in the cannabis industry. Others have issued expert opinions approving an exemption, the bar said.

Georgia is now the fourth state to oppose an exception, alongside Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Mississippi, according to court records.

“This opinion creates a dilemma”

In their unanimous, unsigned statement, the Supreme Court justices said they understand the desire of some Georgia attorneys to help the fledgling cannabis industry.

“But this court has long banned Georgia attorneys from advising and assisting clients in the commission of criminal acts,” the statement said. “The passage of a Georgian law that purports to allow and regulate behavior that is a federal crime does nothing to change this longstanding principle.”

The court found that the prosecution’s request was not limited to conduct related to medical marijuana oil. “In fact, the proposed change is fairly broad and could well apply to a wide range of behaviors that constitute a crime under federal law that simply has no other state criminal sanctions,” the court said.

Paula Frederick, General Counsel of the State Bar, declined to comment.

Its former chief executive Jeff Davis, who was at the state bar at the time the change was formulated, said the organization was merely looking for a “safe haven” that would allow lawyers to provide much-needed advice to medical marijuana companies.

[object Object]Caption

Jeff Davis (second from left) is the former executive director of the State Bar of Georgia and former director of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission. In this photo, he and members of the Justice Department accept the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s 2014 Freedom of Information Award. Also in the photo from left are Lester Tate, Robert Ingram, Judge Brenda Weaver, Richard Hyde, and Judge John Allen. (AJC file)

“That opinion creates a dilemma for lawyers who have advised or are trying to advise Georgian companies trying to comply with state law,” said Davis. “By subjecting lawyers to disciplinary sanctions, this can potentially create a situation where these companies cannot seek legal advice.”

Companies would also have a tough time getting foreign attorneys to help them in Georgia, Davis added. That’s because many of them don’t have a license to practice medicine and even if they do, they have to adhere to the same professional rules, he said.

State Representative Micah Gravley said the goal of Georgian law is to provide safe and laboratory-tested oil to those who need it.

ATLANTA - Georgia MP Micah Gravley (center), sponsor of HB 324, watches as State MP Mark Newton (left) meets Senator Matt Brass (right) on April 2, 2019, the final day The Senate Chambers speaks the 2019 legislature speak. Senator Brass brought HB 324, the Medical Marijuana Act, to the Senate for Gravley.  (ALYSSA POINTER/Alyssa.Pointer@AJC.com)[object Object]Caption

ATLANTA – Georgia MP Micah Gravley (center), sponsor of HB 324, watches as State MP Mark Newton (left) meets Senator Matt Brass (right) on April 2, 2019, the final day The Senate Chambers speaks the 2019 legislature speak. Senator Brass brought HB 324, the Medical Marijuana Act, to the Senate for Gravley. (ALYSSA POINTER/Alyssa.Pointer@AJC.com)

Photo credit: Alyssa Pointer

Photo credit: Alyssa Pointer

“We wanted to do it legally and got it right,” said Gravley, a Douglasville Republican who sponsored bills for medical marijuana oil. “We debated this in the halls of our Capitol and changed the law here in Georgia. It seems like we hit one roadblock after another if we just want to help people in need. ”

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