Medical Marijuana Prompts Plan To Alter Ethics Rules

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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The proposal—which will be discussed in greater depth at the next Rules Committee meeting in late February and could go to the Judges of the Superior Court for approval this summer—calls for "very slight adjustments," as Logan put it, to rules 1.2 and 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Both those section prohibit lawyers from being involved with illegal activity.

In the first proposal, new language would state that while a lawyer cannot counsel a client to engage in criminal activity, the attorney may "counsel or assist a client regarding conduct expressly permitted by Connecticut law."

To add further clarity on what is permitted, Logan has suggested adding language to the Rules of Professional Conduct stating that "counseling or assisting a client with regard to conduct expressly permitted under Connecticut law" would not constitute an ethics violation, even while marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

"This proposal does not create a perfect safe harbor for lawyers, but it's better than having nothing," Logan said.

However, the arrest of a lawyer for any charge would still trigger an ethics complaint. If a lawyer were to be charged with a state or federal crime stemming from his work in the medical marijuana industry, he would still face a disciplinary case for violating that rule.

It would be up to the Statewide Grievance Committee to decide if a violation occurred. Patricia King, the state's chief disciplinary counsel, said she had not completely reviewed Logan's proposal. But, she added, there would be some concern if the proposed rule is so broad as to "provide a defense for illegal activity."

"You wouldn't want a lawyer who was helping a client to engage is tax evasion to use the rule as a defense in a disciplinary case," she said.

Four companies received permits on Jan. 28 from the Department of Consumer Protection to operate dispensaries. The companies, which paid the $25,000 permit fee for a license, include Advanced Grow Labs in West Haven, Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solution LLC in Portland, Curaleaf LLC in Simsbury and Theraplant LLC in Watertown.

More than 20 entities have submitted applications to be approved dispensaries. The approvals for those licenses, of which there are expected to be three granted, will be announced before April.

Diane Whitney, a Pullman & Comley attorney who represented Advanced Grow Labs on land use issues within the permitting process, said changing the language of the Rules of Professional Conduct would put attorneys more at ease in their representation of clients who are associated with medical marijuana.

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