Last week, I reported that the State Bar of Arizona has issued an ethics opinion that guides Arizona lawyers who may advise clients in regard to the recently passed Medical Marijuana Act.

The complete opinion is here.

The path here has been rocky, to say the least. First, there was some misunderstanding about whether the Bar had taken a position on whether lawyers could assist clients when there was a conflict between a new state law and federal prosecution. Many in the media and the public were dazed and confused. It even led one news outlet to say the Bar’s position obstructed justice.

Following that, the Bar clarified its stance, saying it had not taken a formal position.

Of course, now it has, through its newest ethics opinion.

To add to the education, the Bar will hold a seminar this Thursday on the topic. It’s titled “The Arizona Medical Marijuana Program – Proposition 203 and Beyond.”

According to the preview, “The program will discuss Prop 203, the draft rules, issues related to zoning and employment law and the ethical and criminal issues of the proposition.”

Speakers and their topics will include:

  • Will Humble, Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services: Medical Marijuana: Recreation or Medicine?
  • Karen Clark, Esq., Partner, Adams & Clark, PC: Issues related to Prop 203 from an ethics defense perspective
  • Christopher Mason, Esq., Partner, Fisher & Phillips, LLP: How the new law impacts employment
  • Ryan Hurley, Esq., Partner, Rose Law Group pc: Prop 203 and the draft rules and related zoning issues
  • Patricia Sallen, Ethics Counsel, State Bar of Arizona: Ethical issues (including the State Bar’s position) related to Prop 203
  • Theron M. Hall, III, Esq., The Hall Law Firm: Potential criminal issues related to the proposition

Before the CLE, here is a radio news interview (via KJZZ) with Arizona lawyer Christopher Mason regarding workplace aspects of the new law.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Feb. 23, 2011

Contact: Rick DeBruhl, Chief Communications Officer

Phone: (602) 340-7335, Mobile: (602) 513-6385

E-Mail rick.debruhl@staff.azbar.org

State Bar Releases Ethics Opinion on Medical Marijuana Act

PHOENIX – The State Bar of Arizona’s Committee on the Rules of Professional Conduct has issued an opinion that says lawyers may assist clients in complying with the state’s new Medical Marijuana Act.

The issue arose because of a conflict between state and federal law, and that conflict’s intersection with legal ethics. Although Arizona’s new law legalizes medical marijuana in the state, federal law still prohibits the manufacture, distribution or possession with intent to distribute. An ethical rule prohibits a lawyer from counseling or assisting a client in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.

However, the newly released ethics opinion says that Arizona lawyers may assist clients under the following circumstances:

  • The client requests assistance for actions expressly permitted by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act;
  • The lawyer advises the client about the potential implications and consequences of federal law (or recommends client seek proper guidance); and
  • The client knowingly decides to move forward with full knowledge of conflicting federal law.

The opinion notes that no court opinion has held that Arizona’s law is invalid or unenforceable and that the federal government has essentially carved out a safe harbor for some conduct that is in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state law.

“In any potential conflict between state and federal authority, such as may be presented by the interplay between the Act and federal law, lawyers have a critical role to perform in the activities that will lead to the proper resolution of the controversy,” according to the opinion.

The opinion is strictly limited to the unusual circumstances created by the adoption of Arizona’s new Medical Marijuana Act. Any court ruling that affects the Act may also affect the opinion.

The full opinion is available here.

State Bar ethics opinions are advisory in nature only and are not binding in any disciplinary or other legal proceedings.