Lawyers in Colorado are smart to be circumspect about what their attorney lords of discipline might do to them if they start counseling marijuana-related businesses or partaking a bit of the herb for themselves. Notwithstanding that January 1, 2014 it became legal for Colorado residents 21-years of age and older to legally buy up to an ounce of recreational marijuana, the state’s lawyers aren’t so sure how that applies to them.
Consider that some jurisdictions impose disciplinary sanctions on lawyers for illegal drug use, which can range from reprimands to suspensions to disbarment.
So they want assurances first. Indeed, according to a report from Time, “a stream of lawyers and judges appeared at the Colorado Supreme Court on Thursday to argue for rule changes that would explicitly allow lawyers to give advice related to marijuana without fearing disciplinary action — as well as use marijuana themselves.” See “Colorado Lawyers Want to Get High Like Everybody Else.” Also see “Ethics Panel Asks Colorado Supreme Court To Amend Rules, Authorize Marijuana Advice.”
The problem arises because while recreational marijuana use in Colorado is legal — not so with the feds. More specifically, what’s worrying Colorado’s lawyers is Ethics Rule 8.4 Misconduct, which says “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to (b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”
Understandably, Rocky Mountain High lawyers want to first make sure they’ll be protected from discipline under that rule before they indulge in personal use or “strictly for medicinal purposes” as Granny used to say about her ‘roomatiz medicine,’
What’s more, at least for now the Standing Committee studying the matter has already nixed recommending protections to enterprising Colorado lawyers who might’ve entertained broadening their legal practices to include operating marijuana-related commercial businesses.
Unlike those coffee-cum-counseling legal services operations in California, there won’t be any cannabis-cum-counseling legal services providers in Colorado. What a concept that would’ve been — clients eager to visit their lawyers.
Still, the whole thing is taking a long time. Colorado’s legal establishment has been wrestling over it for over a year. But at long last, a final decision is imminent. And probably not soon enough for lawyers craving a bit of ganja with their Marley.
Meanwhile here in Arizona, pot use is limited to prescribed medical purposes. Consequently, what confronted the local lawyer ethics police was different from what faces Colorado’s lawyer disciplinary gurus.
Just before the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act took effect on April 14, 2011, which legalized medical marijuana for use by people with certain “chronic or debilitating” diseases, the Arizona Bar formed their own task force to study the Act’s implications. The result was a carefully delineated, narrowly tailored ethics opinion. But like all such opinions, prudent lawyers know it’s always caveat emptor or in this case, ‘cannabis consuasor emptor’ when relying on a state bar’s disclaimer-laden ethics opinions.
So regardless of outcome, Colorado lawyers wanting to toke up will be well advised to follow not just the bar’s counsel but the Bard’s, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”
Experienced lawyers already know. If you call ethics counsel for precise, distinct ethics advice, chances are their counsel will be magically worthy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s admonition about elves, “Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.”
In Arizona, for example, the “formal opinions of the Committee on the Rules of Professional Conduct are advisory in nature only and are not binding in any disciplinary or other legal proceedings.” [Emphasis added]
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Photo Credits: “She Shoulda Said No!” at Wikimedia Commons, public domain, Image_The_Devil_s_Weed.jpg;“marijuana joint,” by Torben Hansen at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; Irene Ryan as Granny Clampett, Beverly Hillbillies, at Wikimedia Commons, public domain;Drug_bottle_containing_cannabis.jpg at Wikimedia Commons, public domain.; “Marijuana and a pipe,” by Erik Fenderson, 2006-03-19, at Wikimedia Commons, public domain.