New York State Bar Association says attorneys are welcome to serve cannabis industry clients

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

As New Yorkers begin to fully embrace the legalization of adult-use cannabis, attorneys are being informed of their opportunities to partake in the nascent industry. Legislation that was enacted on March 15, 2021 resulted in New York becoming the 15th U.S. state to legalize recreational weed.

The state’s actively operating lawyers were addressed in an ethics opinion that was issued on Thursday, July 8. According to the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), cannabis clients can be advised by lawyers and remain compliant with the state’s new recreational cannabis law; despite the plant’s federally illegal status.

“Without the aid of lawyers, the recreational [cannabis] regulatory system would, in our view, likely break down or grind to a halt,” read the opinion, which also confirmed that lawyers can grow their own cannabis; within state limits.

It should be noted that the NYSBA does not maintain direct regulatory authority over New York attorneys.

Lawyers must abstain from excessive cannabis consumption 

Based on the NYSBA’s announcement, New York’s lawyers now maintain extensive rights in terms of smoking/consuming cannabis recreationally, as well as accept payment(s) in the form of cannabis business ownership stakes. 

However, lawyers are advised to consume cannabis within acceptable means and should refrain from abusing the drug, just as alternative substances like alcohol can be abused,

“Nothing we say here connotes approval of such excessive use or establishes a protective shield for a lawyer who is facing disciplinary charges, malpractice claims, or other adverse consequences arising out of marijuana use,” reads an excerpt from the state bar association’s opinion.

Notwithstanding cannabis’ federally illegal status, the state bar association provided business owners with peace of mind that they would not be targeted; citing Congressional actions and former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr’s promise to safeguard state-legal cannabis companies. 

Conversely, the NYSBA says that it would need to change its approach if the federal government’s attitudes towards cannabis change.

Factors that could strengthen New York’s cannabis industry

The approval of New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act stimulated a wave of change across the state, which must now focus on setting firm regulations that will help to capitalize on legislation. If regulators are victorious in their implementation of adult-use cannabis, they must consider a few things.

Firstly, if the state is to establish a sustainable legal cannabis program capable of overshadowing the illegal market in terms of pricing, more plants must be cultivated. Currently, output is not reaching its maximum potential, with just ten registered organizations currently serving the market over 350,000 square feet of cultivation capacity. 

With a population of 19 million and with as much as 77 metric tons of cannabis being consumed by residents on an annual basis, it’s clear that more cannabis must be churned out to compete with cheaper illegal weed.

Aside from cultivation, New York’s recreational cannabis market must adapt to flexible delivery models; particularly so amid the coronavirus pandemic. Social equity matters, such as access to capital, should also be dealt with; in order to deal with this issue, the state is expected to issue a cannabis-backed bond at the beginning of next year for $1 billion with a 10-year maturity.

If Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s estimates are correct, New York’s adult-use market could generate annual tax revenue to the amount of $350 million annually over the next five years.