In a formal opinion, the State Bar’s Ethics Advisory Committee said that while a lawyer could comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct in representing cannabis-related businesses, they “may not counsel or ‘assist’ a client to commit a crime.”
“As producing and distributing any type of cannabis, including medical cannabis permitted under state laws, is illegal under federal law, a lawyer may not provide prohibited counseling or assistance,” the summary said.
The opinion is non-binding, and New Mexico Bar Association Executive Director Joe Conte called it “a gray area.” There have not been any public disciplinary actions against lawyers in New Mexico due to their work with those in the medical marijuana business.
Jason Marks, a former member of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, said the opinion could be seen to limit the rights of individuals operating in the sector, noting that the state Supreme Court could change the rules of professional conduct for attorneys allowing them to work with cannabis-related businesses.
“They’re depriving these businesses of a right to counsel,” he said in the report. “That’s an inconvenience and a detriment.”
Similar decisions have been made in Ohio and Hawaii, while other states, such as Connecticut and Colorado, have changed their rules to explicitly allow attorneys to counsel cannabis companies.
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