WBUR

Medical Marijuana Law Firm Sets Up Shop In Mass.

BOSTON — Legalized medical marijuana is coming to Massachusetts next year, and along with it is coming a wide variety of business opportunities — including legal work.

A law firm in Colorado, where medical marijuana is already legal, has opened an office in Medford in hopes of representing clients in the medical marijuana industry in this state.

To get a sense of the type of work it expects to do, WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Brian Vicente, a founding partner of the Denver law firm Vicente Sederberg, and asked him to describe his legal niche.

In this Nov. 7 file photo, medical marijuana is packaged for sale in a dispensary in Seattle. Massachusetts voters approved of medical marijuana on Election Day.  (Ted S. Warren/AP, File)

In this Nov. 7 file photo, medical marijuana is packaged for sale in a dispensary in Seattle. Massachusetts voters approved of medical marijuana on Election Day. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Brian Vicente: We think there’s a really great opportunity to help spread the safe access model where patients can access medical marijuana from storefronts instead of street corners or alleys, and we’d like to see that work in Massachusetts.

Sacha Pfeiffer: Is medical marijuana something that has become a legal specialty? I mean, I’ve never heard of a medical marijuana specialty at law school, for example.

It’s an emerging area of law. There are 18 states, including Massachusetts, that have passed medical marijuana laws, and I think it’s safe to say we’re going to see more states coming on board in the future. So our law firm currently is sort of one-of-a-kind. We employ about six attorneys that work full-time on medical marijuana compliance law and issues related to that. But I think it’s really a new and emerging and exciting field to practice in.

What would be an example of one of your clients?

Some of those could just be someone who wants to become a medical marijuana patient, wants to know the rules related to that so they don’t step out of line. But often we’ll see people that are interested in starting a business, and that would be to serve patients. We see people that come out of traditional businesses — restaurateurs or folks that work in retail, etcetera — that want to open a medical marijuana store. There’s a large number of regulations that they need to follow, both at the state and local level. And we help them find a facility that complies with those rules, and we focus very intensely on the actual state medical marijuana laws and how to follow those to a T. And then, of course, there’s federal law, which people need to be aware of. Medical marijuana is still illegal federally, even though it’s legal in 18 states.

So anyone that’s thinking about becoming a patient or opening a business really needs to know what are the possible ramifications of this and how can I follow these laws as closely as possible.

In fact, I believe you’re holding a seminar [Thursday night] in Cambridge. What are some of the issues you’ll be covering at that?

It’ll really be a best practices seminar in terms of what we’ve seen has worked in Colorado, both for business owners and for patients. Medical marijuana patients often face some degree of stigma, sometimes from law enforcement or community members. So we try to teach them methods to minimize negative interactions. And then we’ll be touching on some of the kind of business basics that folks need to understand before they throw their hat in the ring.

You’ve referred to these medical marijuana dispensaries as stores but, at least in Massachusetts, by law only registered patients can get drugs there, and they’ll have tight security. So “stores” sounds like an overly expansive description.

Well, it’s just a way for people to wrap their heads around it. As you know, we’ve had 80-plus years of marijuana prohibition in our country. And now states like Massachusetts are taking steps toward allowing the retail sale in tightly controlled atmospheres, but nonetheless the retail sale of medical marijuana to qualifying patients.

What do you say to those people who are concerned that no matter how much regulation and security there is, some of these operations could lead to more illegal drug activity?

I think it’s unlikely that there will be significant illegal drug activity taking place from these stores. At the end of the day, what we’re going to have is very intensive security at all of these dispensaries in terms of cameras, etcetera. So they’ll be sort of on par with a bank in terms of the security in place. So I think it’s unlikely that people will then try to rob them or redistribute the medical marijuana. Of course, if that does occur, that is 100 percent illegal.

You mentioned federal law. And in many states where medical marijuana is legal, the DEA and U.S. attorneys have raided dispensaries or cracked down in other ways. What do you anticipate happening here in Massachusetts on that front?

To be clear, medical marijuana is illegal federally, despite the fact there’s numerous states that have medical marijuana laws. What we’ve found in places like Colorado, and I believe will happen in Massachusetts, is if people act in accordance with that clear state law, then the federal government has sent a message that they are not interested in prosecuting people that are following the medical marijuana law. Now, the second people step outside of that law — redistributing or selling across state line — that’s when the federal government gets interested.

So it’s our prediction the federal government will probably go pretty hands-off and allow this vote of the people to be meaningful for Massachusetts.

Earlier Coverage:

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hppy-Hippi/1847165691 Hppy Hippi

    What silly fearful idiots. Half the people favor open legalization, not just for medical use. Cannabis is good for you, like aspirine and red wine. It is dumb to worry if legal weed goes to the black market, because all it means is that someone did not have to go to the street corner market and give money to criminals. Weed grown in the state replaces mexican cartel sales, and the money stays in the state, along with the tax. Remember the old 55 mph laws??? Everyone ignored them, so when they changed nothing really happened. Ditto with the cannabis laws, because everyone who wants to use cannabis is already doing so. The high school kids have it. If you want some, go talk to a teenager. It is already ubiquitious, so why not a safe storefront for everyone??? So that law enforcement can keep running the “cannabis gulag” ??? Based on lies and mis information from 75 years ago, now proven false ??? People do and will continue to smoke pot, go ask Willie Nelson. Wake up and give up all you idiotic control freak cowards, there is nothing to fear !!!
    LEGALIZE & APOLOGIZE

    • Citizen

      Thanks, Captain Obvious #5,000,000!

    • vandermeer

      Agree

  • Tppy Trippi

    How likely is it that Massachusetts WILL actually have Medical Marijuana Dispensaries? Most of New England has already legalized Medical Marijuana and there isn’t a single Dispensary in the whole of New England? Is it really set in stone that Massachusetts will have dispensaries?

    • Sacha Pfeiffer

      Regarding the online comment referring to there not being “a single [medical marijuana] dispensary in the whole of New England”: there are, indeed, dispensaries open in Maine. In addition, dispensaries have received conditional approval in Vermont, they’re expected to open in Rhode Island next year, and Connecticut is still drafting regulations for its dispensaries after legalizing medical marijuana earlier this year.

  • Not Buying It

    Pro pot propaganda is becoming tiresome and dated. If there is medicinal value in the plant, it should be able to withstand the rigors of peer reviewed scientific research and gain FDA approval. That’s how we got morphine from the opium poppy. Indeed, 2 FDA approved mairjuana based medicines are already available by a legal doctor’s prescription — though raw marijuana is still illegal to prescribe, hence the legal finesse of a willing doctor’s “recommendation.” Drug legalization does not stop cartels from doing illegal and nasty business — less than 4% of which has anything to do with cannabis. Fewer than 7% of Americans have any experience with marijuana. Legalizers are listening to the voices in their own echo chamber. Drug legalization and its corresponding expanded recreational use is a very bad public health and safety policy idea which has been very heavily financed by drug legalization advocates and the cannabis industry. This is a local business we can do without.

    • Jimbo

      Yes, it would be great to have peer reviewed scientific research, if only conducting such research wasn’t *federally illegal*. From a Stanford article, “…marijuana is classified by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means that the drug has no accepted medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. Because of this designation, biomedical investigators interested in including marijuana in their research must first obtain a special license from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and then apply for access to the supply kept by the National Institutes of Drug Abuse (NIDA) for research purposes.”

      The article continues to go on to say how difficult (read: nearly impossible) obtaining those licenses are. I’m also unsure where your stats are coming from since you failed to cite any sources.

      But please, continue to lecture us on how marijuana is a very bad public health and safety policy, again without any scientific evidence to back up your statements. I certainly hope you don’t smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kathleen-Chippi/633108997 Kathleen Chippi

    Brian Vicente helped craft the language in Colorado that promised to closed down 80% of the existing storefronts for MMJ in 2010–HB1284–and violated all patient HIPPA protections and RFID chipped pot plants…….Do NOT TRUST this LYING attorney in your state—he will bring MPP and the money to screw you all, just like he did in here.

  • Paul Hurteau

    Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says
    marijuana should be legalized and treated like alcohol because the
    government’s war on drugs has failed.

    The outspoken evangelical
    Christian and host of “The 700 Club” on the Virginia Beach-based
    Christian Broadcasting Network he founded said the war on drugs is
    costing taxpayers billions of dollars. He said people should not be sent
    to prison for marijuana possession.

    The 81-year-old first became
    a self-proclaimed “hero of the hippie culture” in 2010 when called for
    ending mandatory prison sentences for marijuana possession convictions.

    “I
    just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in
    prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a
    possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance,” Robertson
    said on his show March 1. “The whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, `Well,
    we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.”

    Robertson’s
    support for legalizing pot appeared in a New York Times story published
    Thursday. His spokesman confirmed to AP that Robertson supports
    legalization with regulation. Robertson was not made available for an
    interview.

    “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we
    treat beverage alcohol,” Robertson told the newspaper. “If people can
    go into a liquor store and buy a bottle of alcohol and drink it at home
    legally, then why do we say that the use of this other substance is
    somehow criminal?”

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57393466/pat-robertson-marijuana-should-be-legal/

  • Panic

    In regard to “not buying it” : I agree with Jimbo. Those stats are not supported nor accepted by anyone that knows the subject regardless of position. Alcohol is way more harmful yet it is legal and super accessible to anyone. Just look at any DOT accident data or comb through court reports from any state. Alcohol kills and increases violence. Marijauna when used alone, does not. Anti-pot propaganda is antiquated and is full of misinformation. I have read many government sponsored research papers that are loaded with positive verbage about the use (not abuse) of marijuana. (see Gordon College library stacks for sources.) Granted both sides use “mis information” to forward their cause. Regarding the criminal element; legal cannibas takes money out of the cartels pockets, that they use to fund more illicit activities such as hard drug trafficking and illeagal arms smuggling and sales. See NRA publication re: mexican guns

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