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How Do You Become a Marijuana Lawyer?

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 01, 2016 6:00 AM

You don't just become a pot lawyer any more than you would just become an equine lawyer. Such niche areas require experience -- the kind of experience that freshly minted law grads don't have. In fact, "pot law" only recently even became an existing area of law. Before, it was simply part of criminal law. And since the number of pot lawyers out there can be counted on one hand, you'll need some basis before venturing out on your own.

Put simply, if you just passed the bar, you'll have to slip a few years' business and contract experience under your belt before you can venture off and become a pot attorney.

Know Your Product

This does not mean toke up. This mean know your market. It probably wouldn't hurt to study the people, the pot culture, and the social issues surrounding pot consumption.

Knowing the product really refers to knowing the current laws regulating pot use, growth, and distribution. Since pot law is such a new and niche area, you'll probably be spending most of your time essentially working as a consultant on pot and not spending that time in court. You should be relieved.

However, you should also be worried. Up till now, one of the more popular rules of thumb was for consultants and advisors to extend alcohol laws and apply them to weed. Obviously, there are pros and cons to this approach. What may seem like common sense to your clients will present major legal issues for you to parse out -- issues that will likely be of first impression. The area is so new in fact that laws are probably changing as you read this. If you thought you had to be adaptable in other areas of law, you haven't seen anything yet.

Try and actively find the time to attend hearings, political events, and meet community leaders. Even meeting with the police might not sound like a bad idea. Each one of these groups will be actively adding their two cents about where they think pot laws should go, whether they're too restrictive or -- indeed -- whether they feel that they don't want to be part of this whole "legalize pot" thing. Information like that is valuable to you as an attorney.

Pot Is Still Illegal

More than 20 states in the union now allow some use of medical marijuana within their borders; and a further four states now allow marijuana pretty much outright. Even Washington D.C. has loosened up on pot.

But as much as there is statewide momentum to legalize pot, the fact remains that marijuana is still a schedule 1 drug as defined by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and this means that technically it's still illegal at the federal level. Few people understand the intricacies behind this and even fewer have heard of the "Cole Memo," a 2013 DOJ call for federal prosecutors to lay-off of pot users in those states that legalized the substance. Pot, it said, should be their lowest priority.

But a Memo is just a memo, and doesn't have the force of law. Prosecutors already often decide not to pursue prosecution for activities that are technically crimes. And no one would go off an tell you to do those things. The point is this: becoming a pot attorney may entail having to advise clients how to stay compliant with state-laws that allow pot, despite it's federal illegal status.

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