By Claire Bushey, Crain News Service
CHICAGO (Feb. 20, 2015) — The haze of regulation surrounding Illinois' new medical marijuana law will help at least one profession: lawyers.
With the market for medical marijuana in Illinois predicted to reach $36 million in 2016, there is a growing need for legal advice, according to Dina Rollman, a partner at Chicago-based litigation boutique Sperling & Slater who has developed a separate cannabis practice. Ms. Rollman advises Green Thumb Industries, which received licenses this month to open three cultivation centers and one dispensary.
Individual attorneys have led the push to serve clients in the emerging industry, she said, and as demand increases, “we will see. . .growing involvement with a lot of full-service firms.”
Some lawyers and firms have hung back, concerned that working with cannabis businesses could hurt their reputation or create client conflicts. Others have decided to pursue the business, which extends beyond regulatory work to include standard business operations: drafting third-party contracts, preparing leases for real estate and protecting intellectual property.
There was “an avalanche” of interest from lawyers starting the day after Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law in 2013, said Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). He decided to co-found Chicago-based Midwest Cannabis Consulting after a lawyer quizzed him about the law, then refused to make a donation to NORML.
“I knew they were going to turn around and bill their client for the conversation they had with me, and I couldn't even get a donation,” he said. Cannabis growers and dispensaries may not see a return on their investment before the pilot program expires in 2018, he said, but “at least in the short term, the lawyers are going to get paid.”
Chicago-based Arnstein & Lehr made a strategic decision to pursue clients in the cannabis industry, Managing Partner Michael Gesas said. The idea developed among senior management because the area dovetailed neatly with the firm's key practice areas in lending and health care.