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By: Jason C. Dineros
This past Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama-era’s relaxations for federal prosecutors of marijuana enforcement. This comes only four days into California’s open recreational use market, and potentially halts what has grown into a niche legal practice as well as a concerted training effort among hospitality operators over the almost five years the federal enforcement relaxations have been in place.
The Obama Administration’s federal enforcement relaxations for marijuana use in 2013, brought with it the development of a viable market industry from what was previously looked upon as taboo—akin to “that stoner stage you went through in high school, but grew out of.” As start-ups were popping up wanting to be frontrunners in an industry that had as much anticipation as whiskey distilleries in the years that followed prohibition, so did the need for legal consultation and representation. No longer was the idea of marijuana dispensaries becoming as common as corner liquor stores still a far too laughable dream (or overly paranoid nightmare, depending on your take); and concepts such as edible bakeries, “weed lounges,” and cannabis-friendly restaurants were likewise materializing into reality.
But how does an attorney provide advice regarding the sale and distribution of a product that is illegal under federal law, but for all intents and purposes, permitted in 29 different states? Well the fallback rule that developed under the Obama Administration’s relaxations, at least from an ethical perspective, was that providing legal services to the cannabis industry was permissible so long as it did not violate state law. And with this came an influx in the practice of cannabis law in 29 of the 50 states.
Further expanding to the social aspect of recreational marijuana, while any experienced bartender has likely taught or learned how and when to cut off an overly-imbibed guest, what protocols are in place for training “budtenders”? And even more importantly, for hospitality operators engaged in operations across different states, how can there be any uniform standard operating procedures when what is a legally viable source of potential revenue in one state, can expose the business to significant fines and potential closure in another? Simply put, until the states begin to react one way or another to Attorney General Sessions’ heightened federal enforcement regulations, the cannabis industry remains one of the most potentially lucrative, risky, and unnavigated industries still in its infancy among the entrepreneurs, attorneys, and hospitality operators involved.
For further information or for further inquiries involving professional liability, commercial liability, or hospitality law, you may contact Jason C. Dineros, the Chair of the Hospitality Law Practice Team of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP, at [email protected].