Medical Marijuana Brings Unanswered Questions For Oklahoma Lawyers
Oklahomans will have many legal questions about medical marijuana, but attorneys say existing rules might make it difficult to answer them. Marijuana is illegal at the federal, and rules of professional conduct in Oklahoma prohibit attorneys from counseling or assisting clients in criminal or fraudulent conduct.
However, the Journal Record reports the new medical marijuana industry will require real estate, licensing, equipment, workers and other issues that could lead businesses to ask for legal services.
Jacob McCleland: You’re listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Jacob McCleland and I’m talking today with Journal Record senior reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo. Sarah, thank you for joining us.
Sarah Terry-Cobo: Hi Jacob, thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.
McCleland: Sarah, I want to talk with you today about a couple recent stories in the Journal Record. One is about medical marijuana and the all the questions attorneys are receiving about it. But lawyers aren’t even sure if they can answer those questions. Why is that?
Terry-Cobo: Well, because an attorney can’t help their clients engage in criminal activity and marijuana is still illegal at a federal level. So our reporter Catherine Sweeney turned to Oregon, where medical marijuana became legal in 1998. But the state didn’t allow dispensaries until 2014, so there was interest then from potential entrepreneurs.
McCleland: So first, who establishes these rules of conduct for attorneys?
Terry-Cobo: Well that’s the state bar association usually will establish the rules of conduct. And that’s the same in Oregon as it would be in Oklahoma.
McCleland: So you mentioned Oregon, and of course Oklahoma is the thirtieth state adopt some kind of marijuana legalization. What have other states like done to address this?
Terry-Cobo: So in Oregon, the state bar association worked with the state courts to amend the rules of conduct for attorneys. They can advise their clients on those issues, but now they have to tell their client that the activity is in conflict with federal law or in some cases tribal law and explain the issue to them. The Supreme Court in Colorado allowed for a similar rule change in March 2014.
McCleland: So is there interest in Oklahoma to do what Oregon did with their rule changes?
Terry-Cobo: Well it’s not clear yet whether the Oklahoma Bar Association is going to pursue similar changes, but if the group did, then the Oklahoma Supreme Court would have to approve the rule change and there are some other states that have done similar rule changes.
McCleland: Let’s talk about marijuana’s relative, hemp. There’s now a pilot program to pair up universities and producers who want to grow industrial hemp. Have farmers been applying to get involved in the program already?
Terry-Cobo: Yes, so far there have been twelve applicants so far, and Rob Stanley, the owner of David Stanley Auto Group, was the first one. Now Stanley and three others are working with Langston University to grow hemp for research and development purposes. And there have been eight who have signed up to work with Redlands Community College in El Reno. That’s interesting because there are strong agricultural ties in the El Reno area. They are actually working Langston on an aquaponics program, that’s like a combination of growing plants in water where they are also growing fish.
McCleland: So does this mean OKlahoma could have its first industrial hemp harvest this year?
Terry-Cobo: Probably, yes. It’s hard to say what the harvest will look like and whether or not it will be commercial. But Rob Stanley says he wants to grow hemp for the oil in the seeds, what’s popularly called CBD, that’s the non-intoxicating chemical.
McCleland: Let’s talk briefly about another story. Oklahoma City’s council is considering a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. The state has already sued the opioid producers, but Attorney General Mike Hunter is urging Oklahoma City to not file their own lawsuit. Why not?
Terry-Cobo: That is because if those cities pursue their own lawsuit, then they will likely have to be removed from the state lawsuit.
McCleland: Why are city councilors not persuaded by this argument, and choosing to go ahead with their own lawsuit?
Terry-Cobo: Well, Councilman Ed Shadid says they look at the state’s lawsuit against big tobacco and they aren’t convinced they will benefit, Oklahoma City will benefit, from the state’s lawsuit. He says that cities get very little financial help from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, or TSET. That is administered at a state level and the money goes to help cut back on smoking, help people get more active and eat healthier food. Shadid says that opioid addiction affects public safety and the emergency response workers as well as a good portion of the population of the city’s residents. So it can be expensive to deal with.
McCleland: And Oklahoma City obviously wouldn’t be the only municipality to sue pharmaceutical companies. New York City filed a lawsuit in January, and there are dozens of other cities and counties that have already done the same, so it will certainly be interesting to see where this goes. Sarah Terry-Cobo is the senior reporter for the Journal Record newspaper. As always, it’s great to talk to you, Sarah.
Terry-Cobo: Absolutely, Jacob, it’s my pleasure.
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