There was a time when “I need a cannabis lawyer” meant you were most likely looking for a criminal defense attorney. But the legal landscape of marijuana law has changed drastically – from the early days of becoming the first state to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes in 1996 to the incessant federal raids and civil forfeiture action to the uneasy truce of the Cole Memo to Prop 64’s legalization of marijuana for recreational sale and use in 2016.
Through all of this, the Los Angeles marijuana lawyers at The Cannabis Law Group have been on the forefront of these evolving laws.
Today, “cannabis law” encompasses a broad array of legal services, including:
- Marijuana business licensing/permitting
- Civil litigation
- Regulatory compliance (tracking and tracing, zoning disputes, etc.)
- Business plans/corporate structure
- Employment/labor law
- Product liability
- Premises liability
- Financial/tax law
- Unfair competition
And yes, cannabis criminal defense lawyers are still needed too – not only so long as marijuana prohibition is in effect at the federal level but also to handle marijuana DUI cases.
We have been centrally focused on all-things-cannabis law in Los Angeles for the better part of two decades, cultivating a highly-skilled team of knowledgeable, dogged attorneys known for consistently-favorable client results.
However, for as many new legal cannabis businesses that have cropped up in recent years, there are just as many new “cannabis lawyers” and “cannabis law firms.” Some work solely on a single area of cannabis law. Others eagerly claim they’ll represent you in all areas, but unlike The Cannabis Law Group, their attorneys have little first-hand industry knowledge or experience actually protecting companies like yours.
It’s important that no matter what kind of bud business operator you are – farmer, pot product manufacturer, investor, shop owner, restaurant, landlord, lab and delivery/tech app services firm – that you hire the right cannabis law firm for your needs.
Cannabis Business is… Really Just Business… But More Complicated
At the end of the day, cannabis businesses in California are going to require a firm well-versed in business and employment law (which we are).
The two major differences between cannabis businesses and “ordinary” businesses are:
- Cannabis companies are more highly-regulated than most others;
- The patchwork of inequitable laws that vary dramatically – not only between the state and federal government, but from state-to-state, county-to-county, city-to-city, town-to-town.
Lots of other industries are highly-regulated too (motor vehicles, alcohol, medicinal products, gasoline/oil, firearms, etc.). Each have their own case law history, their own set of rules, their own exceptions. Many of these are so heavily regulated, they have attorneys who only specialize in that industry. Cannabis is a relatively brand new industry and ongoing federal prohibition complicates matters exponentially.
Yet even as marijuana law is likely to be battle-tested in court, it’s probable there will also be significant overlap of legal principles and guidelines applicable to these other more established sectors.
Because of the complications, though, a general business lawyer is unlikely to be able to protect your interests and assets the same as an attorney whose primary focus is cannabis business law. Hiring one who has specifically practiced extensively in Los Angeles, Orange County and Southern California is especially helpful, given the jurisdictional patchwork of laws.
With What Kinds of Things Can a Cannabis Business Attorney Help Me?
There is no requirement that any new cannabis business hire a lawyer. You can technically file your own business license application, secure investors and hire employees without help. That doesn’t mean it’s wise.
Some of the various ways a marijuana business attorney can help you build your business and keep it secure:
- Advising/assisting with appropriate corporate structure. California cannabis entrepreneurs have had to endure several different models of this over the years. Originally, the state required non-profit co-op corporate structures. Those have since been outlawed in favor of the for-profit model. Determining how your assets can be matched to your vision and matching that to the appropriate corporate structure will put you in the strongest possible position to succeed.
Securing a license to operate. In California, the agency issuing your provisional permit/annual license will depend on the type of business you do. For instance, the state’s Department of Agriculture handles licenses for marijuana farmers. Knowing where to apply, how to apply and what information and capital you’ll need to boost your odds of a successful application and launch.
Trademark/patent protection. You’re going to want to do all you can to protect your name, logo, unique processes – the things that make you special and help build customer loyalty. Intellectual property law falls under federal jurisdiction – and federal agencies don’t make it easy. Working with a cannabis lawyer experienced in intellectual property cases will help protect your brand to the fullest extent possible.
Leases and contracts. If you’re looking for a place to rent, a landlord considering renting to cannabis businesses, rental and lease agreements must be carefully drafted to limit your liability. Same goes for business contracts you work out with other cannabis companies, labs, growers, suppliers, retailers or ancillary firms.
Taxes. Cannabis companies loathe taxes – not only because lack of options for banking make logs harder to keep, but the Internal Revenue Service bars any company that earns its money in the “illegal” drug trade (and cannabis is still illegal under federal law) is not entitled to a host of key deductions on which many businesses rely. There are numerous strategies that can help ease crushing tax burdens, and you can try to navigate them without a cannabis tax lawyer: Just keep in mind the IRS is watching your every step. If those records aren’t meticulous, everything could be in jeopardy.
These are just a few areas that for which cannabis companies are advised not only to seek legal counsel – but from someone with direct experience in this unique and changing areas of law.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, ancillary companies, patients, doctors and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
Protecting Your California Cannabis Intellectual Property, July 1, 2019, California Cannabis Lawyer Blog