Image of legal cannabis being rolled into a joint.
Right now, students at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law are taking the nation’s first class on marijuana law. And it’s high time.
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“Everywhere I’ve gone, lawyers have asked me about how marijuana legalization will affect their practice, whether they do commercial real estate, land use, banking, tax or criminal defense,” says Sam Kamin, the Sturm professor responsible for creating the class, Representing the Marijuana Client.
 
Not only is marijuana law constantly changing, but it’s complex. Many states, like Colorado, have legalized weed for recreational and medical use. Cannabis is still illegal by federal law, which means anyone who helps cultivate or distribute it — even in states like Colorado —violates the Controlled Substances Act.
 
“As long as marijuana remains felonious under federal law, it’s going to be an ethical gray area,” Kamin says. “This definitely seems like an area where there are too few lawyers who understand the state of the law and are able to help the clients.”
 
So Kamin’s class will , for example, cover topics such as how lawyers can help dispensary owners get financial assistance. The majority of banks refuse to do business with those in the pot industry so they can’t be prosecuted for aiding and abetting in narcotics distribution. But if dispensaries owners can’t get bank loans, they also can’t deposit their money into savings accounts.
 
Kamin says he and his students will discuss various alternate methods people use to get banking services and “whether using workarounds does your clients good or exposes them to more risk”.
 
Other course topics include helping dispensaries comply with state regulations, how law enforcement interprets marijuana law and how states can spend the money received from taxing and licensing marijuana.
 
“This affects all areas of law,” says Madalyn McElwain, a third-year at Sturm and the chapter director of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Related: Voices: Why NYC’s marijuana policy change should matter to students
 
McElwain, who wants to represent dispensaries, growers and businesses who sell pot-infused products, says she feels “so very fortunate” to be taking Kamin’s course.
 
“There hasn’t been a class that’s geared toward the practical application of what it means to represent these clients,” she says. “I didn’t think I’d be able to learn this in law school — I thought I’d just have to go out there and apply myself and get some sort of learning experience.”
 
Which is what Matt Kumin, a lawyer who’s been working with clients in the pot industry since the late 90s, did.
 
“When I first started, there was no law,” Kumin says. “There were no court cases. There were no tax cases.”
 
Kumin says all he could advise his clients was “be a good neighbor.”
 
Although Kumin says it would have been nice to take a law school class on the marijuana industry then, it hasn’t been possible until now.
 
“Nineteen years in we have a pretty good idea of what is going to get someone in trouble and what’s not going to get someone in trouble,” Kumin says. “We have a lot more court cases and a lot more guidelines.”
 
And Kamin acknowledges the debt the legal community owes to “self-educated” marijuana lawyers like Kumin.
 
“They helped write [the current] rules and regulations,” Kami says. “And they put themselves out there at a time when legal status of marijuana was even less certain than it is today.”
 
McElwain isn’t the only student eager to take Kamin’s class. He has a long wait-list — and not just of Sturm law students.
 
“I have students at other schools asking me [to take it], I have practitioners who are practicing in this area and want to brush up on their skills,” Kamin says. “I have to say no to almost everybody.
 
By: Aja Frost, Cal Poly SLO ~ January 22, 2015 
 
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