Tall-backed leather chairs sitting at a conference room table.

Phil Roeder

Pennsylvania Law Firms Creating Cannabis Divisions

Despite the threat of arrest, imprisonment, and disbarment, attorneys in Pennsylvania are setting up cannabis-centric practices to serve the state’s medical cannabis operators, Philly.com reports. Four of Philadelphia’s largest firms – Duane Morris, Cozen O’Connor, Pepper Hamilton, and Fox Rothschild – have created cannabis divisions as the state prepares to launch its medical cannabis program.

Despite the Trump administration being “a big ball of uncertainty,” Joseph C. Bedwick, a partner at Cozen O’Connor, said the firm saw the industry as a “growth opportunity.”

Joshua Horn, co-chair of Fox Rothschild’s cannabis practice, said a federal crackdown was unlikely because the government doesn’t have the manpower or budget “and the popular will is strongly against it.”

“More than 90 percent of the people in the Commonwealth support the medical marijuana program, and Pennsylvania isn’t the most liberal state,” he said in the report.

Yet, in May, Jessica McElfresh, a California attorney, was arrested and charged by the San Diego district attorney with multiple felonies connected to her alleged role in helping her clients hide evidence of an oil extraction facility. In that case, attorney-client privilege was revoked and authorities seized her client files, calendar, address book, and internet searches. They also demanded her cellphone location data for the past three years.

Steven Schain of Hoban Law Group said McElfersh’s case “represents a landmine” in the paths of attorney’s operating in the space.

“Sizzle aside, marijuana remains 100 percent illegal under federal law,” he said. “Any real cannabis lawyer is exposed to massive federal and civil prosecution. But we’re willing to take the risk.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Disciplinary Board has made it clear that attorneys in the state can counsel clients; however, they must inform their clients that they are violating federal law.

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