Since Ohio legalized medical marijuana on September 8, 2016, lawyers have been wrestling with what they can and cannot do as it relates to providing professional services to Ohio medical marijuana patients, and the businesses that will serve them.
Ohio's medical marijuana law prevents professional license-holders from being disciplined for working with marijuana patients or businesses. However, it is unclear how this applies to attorneys, both with regard to their services for clients and the question: can lawyers get medical marijuana legally, for their own use?
The Ohio Supreme Court is the only authority that can discipline Ohio lawyers. The Ohio Supreme Court's Board of Professional Conduct issues nonbinding advisory opinions in response to hypothetical questions about the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. Since August 2016, Ohio lawyers have submitted requests for formal ethics opinions seeking clarification on three questions:
In an August 2016 Advisory Opinion, the Board of Professional Conduct suggested that under Ohio's professional standards for attorneys, Ohio lawyers could not advise medical marijuana patients or businesses because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The Opinion also stated that Ohio attorneys could face criminal prosecution for assisting clients in committing a federal crime.
The August 2016 Advisory Opinion prohibited Ohio lawyers from providing basic legal services, like helping a client set up a medical marijuana business, representing a medical marijuana business before state regulatory boards, or drafting contracts with medical marijuana suppliers.
The Opinion went on to state that a lawyer who uses medical marijuana may face federal prosecution, and that the use of medical marijuana may "adversely reflect on a lawyer's honestly, trustworthiness, and overall fitness to practice law."
On September 20, 2016, the Board of Professional Conduct issued an Amendment to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct to clarify an Ohio attorney's ethical responsibilities under Ohio's new medical marijuana law. The amendment states that Ohio lawyers may counsel or assist clients "regarding conduct expressly permitted under Sub.H.B. 523 [Ohio's medical marijuana law]" which authorized "the use of marijuana for medical purposes" but that "lawyers shall advise the client regarding related federal law."
The September 2016 Amendment seemingly allows Ohio lawyers to advise and represent clients with regard to medical marijuana. However, because it does not address an Ohio lawyer's personal use of medical marijuana or whether an Ohio lawyer could face disciplinary action for owning or operating a medical marijuana business, the August 2016 Advisory Opinion still applies. Thus, it would seem that an Ohio attorney could still face professional disciplinary action for these activities.
The next two years will bring significant changes to the use of medical marijuana in Ohio. If you have questions, contact an experienced Ohio criminal defense lawyer at Wolfe Legal Services today. I work with people throughout the greater Columbus area, including Dublin, Bexley, Upper Arlington, Marysville, Hilliard, Delaware and Newark, and throughout Franklin County, Delaware County, Union, and Licking County. Call (614) 263-5297 any time or complete our online form.