Although cannabis is now legal in Ohio for medicinal use, a panel for the state’s Supreme Court said recently that lawyers are not permitted to provide legal services for those groups and individuals interested in getting into the business of medical marijuana because cultivation, sale and use of herb still remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
According to a ruling handed down last week by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct, attorneys are not only prohibited from lending legal aid to those people working to establish a legitimate cannabis operation, but these professionals are also forbade from using medical marijuana even if their doctor provides them with a recommendation.
The board’s advisory opinion indicates that, “a lawyer may not advise a client to engage in conduct that violates federal law, or assist in such conduct, even if the conduct is authorized by state law.” Furthermore, the decision suggests that a lawyer’s use of medical marijuana “may reflect on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, and overall fitness to practice law.” All of these factors, the board said, put lawyers at risk for ethical violations that could lead to disciplinary action, even disbarment.
However, Ohio attorneys can still offer the medical marijuana community some guidance, the board said. But the only acceptable contribution in terms of counseling these entrepreneurs toward a prosperous weed-slinging business is to offer “advice as to the legality and consequences of a client’s proposed conduct under state and federal law.”
What is interesting about the board’s opinion is that it is a complete contradiction to the language of law. In May, when the Ohio General Assembly pushed through a bill aimed at creating a statewide medical marijuana program, which was signed into law by Governor John Kasich, it came attached with a provision intended to make attorneys prosecution proof for playing a role in the medical marijuana industry.
Ohio attorney Brice Keller, who is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, told HIGH TIMES that it is important to understand that the board’s opinion is non-binding. He said that while the decision does not create “a great situation,” it would not likely deter any of those attorneys who are truly dedicated to getting their hands in the medical marijuana machine. But he believes that lawyers who are not very knowledgeable of the scene will simply play it safe and “error on the side of caution.”
Keller, who uses medical marijuana for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said the board’s opinion of whether attorneys should participate in Ohio’s medicinal cannabis program is another issue that does not really carry much weight.
“The question about use is tough, because lawyers aren’t really prohibited from personal use in Ohio because it’s not criminal,” Keller said. “A marijuana ticket isn’t enough for attorney discipline alone. The board says no use for attorneys, but that it’s not enforceable. It’s a factor, if that use contributes to other problems.”
Ethics panels in a significant numbers of states that have legalized medical marijuana have ruled in favor of allowing attorneys to participate in the cannabis industry. However, boards in states like Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii and Maine have all made determinations similar to Ohio.