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Arizona High Court Fails to Change Cannabis Rules for Attorneys

The Arizona Supreme Court rejected a petition that would have repealed rules that threaten lawyers with disbarment if they assist clients in the state’s legal cannabis industry, the Arizona Daily Star reports.

The justices rejected the petition without comment, giving no reason for their decision. The verdict affirms the existing rules prohibiting attorneys from assisting clients “in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal.”

Attorney Patricia Sallen, the petitioner, said the ruling puts lawyers at risk over what they can advise clients who are interested in the marijuana business.

Bill Montgomery, a Maricopa County attorney who supports the status quo, said that regardless of state statutes, attorneys are not “entitled to help break federal law.”

“That’s called a conspiracy,” Montgomery said in the report. “And that makes the attorney an accomplice.”

According to the report, a 2011 opinion by the State Bar of Arizona does provide some cover for attorneys who advise individuals in the marijuana business. That opinion concluded that lawyers are permitted to counsel clients about complying with the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, and allows them to help incorporate businesses and represent their clients in front of government agencies.

Sallen says that the opinion by the Bar is just that — an opinion — and may not do enough to protect lawyers because it does not supersede rules set forth by the court.

“Strictly applied, this means that by advising and helping clients conduct business under Arizona’s medical marijuana law, lawyers would be engaging in criminal conduct under federal law,” Sallen wrote in the petition.

The decision comes just two months before voters in Arizona will decide whether or not to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

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