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Weed Lawyers Can Be Weed Sellers, Washington State Bar Says

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on July 30, 2015 9:43 AM

The Evergreen State just got a little greener, at least for lawyers. The Washington State Bar Association gave attorneys the, ahem, green light to use weed and operate marijuana-related businesses, just three years after Washington voters legalized recreational use.

This makes Washington the first state to not only allow attorney recreational use of weed but to also allow lawyers to go ahead and open their own pot shops, farms, or other businesses.

From Tax Lawyer to Pot Retailer

Washington was one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana when the voters approved a public initiative in 2012. If lawyers were involved at the get go, it was often in helping weed farmers, processors, and retailers understand the state's complex taxation and licensing scheme. Washington's licensing scheme initially involved a three-level excise tax which brought the state more than $1.4 million in tax revenues every day. Those rules were simplified this year, imposing a straight-forward 37 percent tax on consumer marijuana products.

Without all the red tape to deal with, what is a Washington pot lawyer supposed to do now that weed-purveyors don't need their help as desperately? Set up shop, apparently.

The Washington State Bar ethics committee says there's no problem with lawyers buying weed, owning and operating a weed business, or advising clients on pot law and regulations. Even government lawyers got the go-ahead -- a bit too late for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who had to apologize for bringing weed to work after buying it on the first day of legalization.

But What About the Feds?

Oh yeah, marijuana production, sale, and use remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, right? The state bar acknowledged as much and noted that, yes, there was a "tension" between Washington law and federal prohibition. Currently, however, the federal government has been working closely with Washington's Governor to make sure the state law does not conflict with federal priorities.

Should the federal government change its tactics -- several presidential candidates have said they would crack down on recreational weed -- Washington's bar association might have to rethink its advice. The ethics opinion notes that involvement in the weed industry is allowable "at least for as long as the federal government continues to take the same approach" to state legalization.

First in Its Class

Four state bar associations have addressed whether lawyers can use marijuana without violating state ethics codes, according to Bloomberg BNA. Washington has gone the farthest of the four, allowing lawyers to both smoke and sell.

Colorado allows attorney's to use marijuana medically and recreationally, while Connecticut requires a prescription for lawyer pot use. Sadly, North Dakota ruined many attorneys' buzz when their state bar decided that lawyers could not smoke medical marijuana from their neighbors in Minnesota, where medical marijuana is legal.

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