Morristown-based law firm Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti has formed a cannabis law group to provide legal counsel regarding cannabis-related businesses and investments.
The move follows the recent introduction of cannabis-legalization bills in the state and Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent executive order regarding medical marijuana reforms.
The proposed legislation – Senate Bill 830 and Assembly Bill 1348- propose legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use and decriminalizing marijuana paraphernalia and activities related to cultivation, distribution and manufacture.
Earlier, U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama-era Cole Memo, which among other things told federal prosecutors to honor local legalization laws. Under Sessions’ new memo, state-compliant marijuana-related businesses are once again at risk of prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act.
Additionally, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, passed in February, prohibits the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent states from implementing medical marijuana laws.
According to Jason Navarino, one of the members of Riker Danzig’s new Cannabis group, the flux of cannabis legislation made this the right time create a counsel team.
“Several of our attorneys, myself included, have already been providing counsel to clients in the cannabis industry. We’ve seen an increase in interest in this area in recent months,” Navarino said. “With Gov. Murphy looking to fulfill his campaign promise of legalizing marijuana in the State of New Jersey, we expect this trend to continue.”
The Cannabis Law Group also includes Robert Frucht, Samuel Moulthrop, Zahid Quraishi, and Mary Kay Roberts, all part of Riker Danzig’s Corporate, Government Affairs, and White Collar Criminal Defense and Investigations Practice Groups.
“The key concern is what exactly is truly ‘legal,’” Navarino said. “For all the talk of legalization at the state level, no state act of legalization by itself can override this federal criminal statute. So the first hurdle for businesses in this space to overcome is understanding the federal law – what it prohibits, what it permits, and what the risks are to a client of relying on the Rohrabacher Amendment or DOJ pronouncements [to] engage in conduct that the Act technically prohibits.”
Navarino said that the group has spoken to current and potential clients about forming a private investment fund to pursue opportunities in the cannabis industry, about the legality of investing in the stock of foreign cannabis businesses and providing market intelligence to others in this industry, and about obtaining a dispensary license in the State of New Jersey, among other topics.