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Since many states have passed legislation decriminalizing cannabis, approving its medicinal use, and even out-right legalizing it, entrepreneurs are seeking legal advice on how to establish and run their businesses. In light of the continuing illegality on the federal level, state bar associations have been grappling with rules governing attorney conduct in the industry. It looks like a recent order from the Georgia Supreme Court has answered the question for Georgia attorneys.
On June 21, 2021, the Georgia Supreme Court issued its decision to prohibit attorneys from counseling and assisting clients in the cannabis industry, so long as possession and use of cannabis remains a federal crime. Bluntly, the Court denied a motion to amend Rule 1.2 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, which would have permitted Georgia attorneys to counsel clients in matters regarding the growth, manufacture, and sale of low-THC permitted under Georgia law. The motion would have permitted attorneys to counsel clients in matters “so long as the conduct is not a crime under Georgia law.” The Court unanimously held that the ruling stems from its stance prohibiting Georgia attorneys from counseling clients in the commission of criminal acts, including federal crimes.
The Court’s ruling creates a limit on the conduct of Georgia attorneys who want to assist those entering “Georgia’s fledgling cannabis industry.” The ruling also holds a mirror to Georgia’s conflicting beliefs in governing the cannabis industry. Georgia—home to the 2021 USA CBD Expo, one of the many states which allow the sale of medical cannabis oil, and upcoming supplier of 6 medical cannabis grow and manufacture licenses—will require entrepreneurs and companies to navigate the hazy landscape of ever-changing state and federal legislature, without the assistance of attorneys. Georgia attorneys will need to be upfront with cannabis clients about their scope of representation and the limit of legal advice they can dispense.
We will continue to monitor developments and rulings related to the cannabis industry.
If you would like a copy of this order, In Re: Motion to Amend 2021-3, please contact Wayne S. Melnick at [email protected] or Carlos A. Fernández [email protected] directly.