Public defender: Lawyers should not be involved in marijuana business

PUBLIC Defender Douglas W. Hartig said CNMI lawyers should not be involved in marijuana operation and distribution. Lawyers, he added, cannot provide legal services necessary for a client to establish and operate a medical marijuana enterprise.

In his legal comment submitted to Senate Vice President Steve Mesngon, chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government and Law, Hartig said it may be improper for any lawyer to assist in the establishment of any business involved in marijuana production and distribution.

The committee is looking into Sen. Sixto Igisomar’s Senate Bill 20-62, which proposes to regulate cannabis in the CNMI.

Hartig cited an article in the Jan. 2017 edition of the American Bar Journal written by David L. Hudson Jr. who said, “lawyers advising clients on marijuana laws may run afoul of ethics rules.”

Hartig quoted Hudson as saying that the key question is whether a lawyer advising a client on the cultivation, sale or use of marijuana under state law runs afoul of professional conduct rules given that such activities are illegal under federal law.

Hudson said under federal law, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

“It’s important to note that growing and selling marijuana violates federal law,” Hartig quoted Hudson as saying.

Hudson added that the Board of Professional Conduct in Ohio addressed this question in and cited Rule 1.2 (d) of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct which prohibits an attorney from assisting a client in conduct the lawyer knows is illegal.

“That rule does not distinguish between illegal client conduct that will or will not be enforced by the federal government,” Hartig quoted Hudson as saying.

“Some states have amended their ethics rules to comport with the legalization of marijuana distribution and use, but the CNMI has not,” Hartig added.

For his part, retired educator Ambrose M. Bennett, who supports the legalization of marijuana, submitted a seven-page letter to the Senate committee.

He said the legalization of marijuana must be implemented by legislative act and not by an initiative or a vote by the people as proposed by S.B. 20-62.

He said there is also no need to pit senatorial districts to decide separately for themselves as the bill should be “an all or nothing endeavor.”

The Senate committee will conduct a public hearing on the bill on Tuesday, Oct. 10, in the Senate chamber at 9 a.m., and on Oct. 24 at the multi-purpose center at 6 p.m.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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