City attorneys asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to move quickly on a rule change allowing lawyers to advise clients on medical marijuana issues.
They said that under the series of state deadlines to put zoning and licensing ordinances in place, they need to be helping their planners and council members now, not later.
“We’re in the middle of this,” said Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic. “We’re being driven by a timeline of the state.”
North Las Vegas City Attorney Sandra Morgan echoed his comments, saying she and her staff need some sort of guidance so they can participate in drafting those ordinances and give their elected bodies advice.
“Right now we have ordinances being drafted by staff with no legal advice,” said Sean Oliphant of the firm representing the City of Reno.
He said they have been forced to resort to hiring lawyers from Colorado to help.
The problem is that the oaths taken specifically by public lawyers bar them from giving advice that would violate state or federal law, as well as the Nevada and U.S. constitutions. While Nevada has legalized medical marijuana and mandated a system that will provide the drug to legitimate cardholders, federal law still bans any use of pot.
Alan Lefebvre of the State Bar said that puts local government lawyers in an untenable positions of either not providing the legal advice they are required to or breaking federal law by doing so.
Justices led by Jim Hardesty and Kris Pickering expressed concern that the proposed rule change offered by the State Bar was too general and could excuse lawyers from discipline in other situations in which state and federal law disagree.
Pickering asked whether the court could issue a “comment” essentially permitting those lawyers to advise clients specifically on medical marijuana issues while they work out a permanent solution similar to what Colorado did. She and Hardesty said focusing that permission specifically on the medical marijuana provision in the Nevada Constitution would at least narrow the impact in the meantime.
Justices indicated they would try to have at least some interim guidance for lawyers very quickly.