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As cannabis booms in states, feds remain an obstacle

While nearly three dozen states have legalized marijuana in some form, the federal government has been an impediment to industry development, said panelists at the ABA’s first-ever national gathering on cannabis law, held Sept. 19-20 in Chicago. 

States' laws regulating cannabis are at odds with longstanding federal drug legislation.

States' laws regulating cannabis are at odds with longstanding federal drug legislation.

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Laurent Crenshaw of Eaze noted that the California-based marijuana delivery service is forced to operate in cash only. This is because financial institutions shut out cannabis businesses from banking services and access to capital to avoid subverting federal law.

Shane Pennington of Yetter Coleman LLP in Houston shared the difficulty in getting the DEA to approve a license to study PTSD using a strain of marijuana that isn’t grown by the government. While the U.S. attorney general is required to publish a notice of such applications within 90 days upon receipt, the application remains unprocessed three years after submission.

Jessica Wasserman of the Washington, D.C., office of Greenspoon Marder LLP discussed issues facing the import of hemp, a strain of cannabis legalized through the 2018 Farm Bill. The USDA and FDA have yet to issue regulations and the DEA also hasn’t set up the needed testing on THC levels, leading to a situation where hemp is allowed into some ports but seized at others.

To help navigate these and a host of other issues, the Tort, Trial and Insurance Practice Section organized “From Regs to Riches: Navigating the Rapidly Emerging Fields of Cannabis and Hemp Law,” bringing in policymakers, lawyers, researchers and others on the frontlines of the nation’s burgeoning marijuana industry. The two-day conference included panels on federal laws, legal ethics, as well as employment issues.

“It’s a tricky ethical wicket for lawyers,” TIPS cannabis committee chair Michael Drumke said of the practice in on Sept. 12. “It’s not without risk to lawyers practicing in the space but we know by the numbers that many firms, including a number of large prominent law firms, have active practice groups.”

Despite the difficulties, “it’s happening,” Drumke said of the cannabis boom, “and there’s a need for lawyers on multiple fronts to assist the industry.”

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