Nevada eyeing rules governing pot-case lawyers
March 13, 2014
LAS VEGAS — Facing a conflict between state and federal law, attorneys in Nevada are asking the state Supreme Court to set rules to protect lawyers who advise clients on medical marijuana issues.
Nevada Bar Association President Alan Lefebvre said Thursday the request submitted this week seeking expedited state high court action comes with private and public attorneys unsure whether they can advise clients how to handle a medical marijuana law that takes effect April 1.
The law, passed by the state Legislature last year and signed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, allows for regulated distribution of medicinal marijuana in Nevada's counties, with up to 40 dispensaries allowed in Clark County, 10 in Washoe and two in Carson City. The law also lets cities and counties ban medical pot operations in their jurisdictions.
Rules of professional conduct prohibit a lawyer from advising a client to break the law.
Lefebvre said attorneys asked state bar ethics officials whether they could face discipline or lose their law license for representing prospective medical marijuana dispensary owners.
The city attorneys of the state's four largest cities — Las Vegas, Henderson, Reno and North Las Vegas — also wrote letters seeking guidance.
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In one, Reno City Attorney John Kadlic noted that the federal controlled substances act makes medical marijuana illegal, even though the federal Justice Department hasn't been prosecuting cases.
In another, Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic asked what role Nevada attorneys "may ethically play because of the interplay of Nevada's new law with the federal prohibition against the distribution of marijuana."
The state bar governing board submitted its petition Tuesday to the Nevada Supreme Court seeking an amendment to rules of professional conduct so lawyers can safely provide legal advice about medical marijuana.
The state high court is expected to hold a public hearing before making a decision.
Lefebvre said state supreme courts were considering similar issues in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to allow the sale and use of recreational marijuana. Twenty states allow the sale of marijuana for medical purposes.
"We are not racing anybody to get a rule change effected," Lefebvre said. "I am only concerned about the April 1 effective date."