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Las Vegas Lawyers Go to Pot—or at least talk to clients about marijuana laws

January 2, 2014

Despite federal law prohibiting the sale of marijuana, soon any Las Vegas lawyer or attorney in Nevada may be able to advise clients on Nevada’s medical marijuana law. As more and more states ponder loosening or revising laws around marijuana either for medicinal purposes or regulated distribution like Washington and Colorado, the subject has been prominent in the media, the minds of the public, and now, lawmakers.

Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic has requested that the Nevada State Bar propose an amendment to an ethical rule so that a Las Vegas lawyer can give clients information and legal advice on medical marijuana issues, according to Las Vegas KSNV MyNews3. At first glance, this only seems reasonable and to follow on the heels of ascribing to state’s rights—while medical marijuana is legal in Nevada, attorneys should be able to give counsel to clients regarding the state’s laws. The fact that those clients could include governing bodies may spell a different story for the future.

The code of ethics in question needs revision so that a Las Vegas lawyer can give legal advice to clients about the state laws without violating federal law, which could lead to disbarment, says Jerbic, as Nevada law bars lawyers from telling their clients to do anything illegal. Faced with the dilemma of losing his license or job, or counseling clients on the state law, most any Las Vegas lawyer would choose to keep their license.

But that puts medical marijuana users at a severe disadvantage; without access to correct legal advice regarding their health needs and treatment, they are virtually unprotected against any legal entanglements that could arise.

Until now, or at least soon in the future. Jerbic submitted his request to the state bar in October. Only a few months later, he refused to advice City Council members on their proposed ordinance for the raising and sale of medical marijuana, as authorized by the state Legislature—under the current ethical rules in Nevada, he would be subject to disbarment. Fortunately for Nevada’s medical marijuana users and governing bodies attempting to get their rules, ordinances, statutes, laws and regulations sorted out around marijuana use—just like the rest of the country—the state bar President Alan Lefebvre seems to agree with Jerbic. “He’s a highly ethical lawyer and he proceeded in the right way,” Lefebvre said about Jerbic’s refusal to help the Las Vegas City Council.

And even though U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the federal government won’t go after lawyers in states that allow medical marijuana, the fear of prosecution doesn’t allay ethical qualms. And as more governing bodies need legal advice on implementations of policies passed by state Legislatures, the state bar’s recommended rule change will come as a relief to many Nevada attorneys if passed by the state’s Supreme Court—the final authority.

Marijuana classification and regulation remains a divisive issue, but at least now, if you’re a Las Vegas lawyer, you can talk to your clients about the legal aspects of it in Nevada.

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