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Arizona ethics laws may prevent attorney assistance for medical marijuana cases

  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Arizona ethics laws may bar attorneys from aiding clients from navigating the new medical marijuana law in Arizona, according to an article in the East Valley Tribune on Sunday. Even though Arizona just passed a medical marijuana law, under federal law, medical marijuana still remains illegal. Unlike California law, Arizona's ethics law may bar attornies from assisting in incorporating a nonprofit for a medical marijuana dispensary, for instance, or other similar legal needs of the medical marijuana communities, according to the article:

    The rules in Colorado, however, where a medical marijuana law was approved in 2000, are identical to Arizona.

    There has been no formal opinion from that state’s bar on the issue. But a[n] article written earlier this year for a Colorado Bar Association newsletter on the issue of helping companies set up marijuana distribution businesses, which are legal under that state’s laws, provides no more guidance on the issue than the Maine opinion.

    “Lawyers who assist medical marijuana dispensaries may well violate (the ethical rule) and should not delude themselves by indulging fine distinctions over the degree of their assistance or knowledge of a client’s criminal conduct,’’ wrote attorney Alec Rothrock. “The risk of violation is high and cannot be eliminated.’’

    While no formal opinion appears to be documented, this article highlights another concern in the issue of federal conflict with states' medical marijuana laws. Earlier this year, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the same conflict with federal law prevented medical marijuana patients from being protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act in employment situations, because they were using an "illegal drug."

    Oregon's ethics law appears to hold the same conflict that Arizona law appears to have; the wording is identical to the Arizona and Colorado wording:

    (c) A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a
    client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is illegal or fraudulent, but a
    lawyer may discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of
    conduct with a client and may counsel or assist a client to make a good
    faith effort to determine the validity, scope, meaning or application of
    the law.

    These conflicts will continue to arise until marijuana is made legal by the federal government. In the meantime, as Rothrock was quoted as saying above, “The risk of violation is high and cannot be eliminated.’’

    November 28th, 2010



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