HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A recent opinion from the Hawaii Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board could impede the state's plan for medical marijuana dispensaries. The board said a lawyer can advise a client on Hawaii's medical pot dispensary law but can't "provide legal services to facilitate establishing and operating a medical marijuana business."
Attorney Stephen Pingree calls it a hurdle.
"The lawyer cannot take any actions like forming a company, or creating contracts, or negotiating consultant work," he said.
Since marijuana is illegal under Federal law, the board said a lawyer who helps a client set up a dispensary business helps them commit a crime.
"It hurts the clients, the business people who want to apply for licenses, who have all sincerity and money and effort and time.
It hurts them because they're left without legal guidance," Pingree said.
"The new dispensary law doesn't address the conduct of attorneys because that's more rightfully regulated by the Supreme Court through the offices of the Disciplinary Council, the Disciplinary Board, and the Hawaii State Bar Association," said Rep. Della Au Belatti, chair of the House Health Committee.
Dispensary applicants must show proof of $1.2 million in assets 90 days before they they apply for a license.
The first day for that is October 12.
"If they want to form an entity such as an LLC or corporation, those type of things usually require the services of an attorney," Pingree said.
The Hawaii Dispensary Alliance, a not-for-profit organization advocating for the collective interests of Hawai'i's legitimate cannabis industry, said since the board's opinion was released, two groups that were interested in applying for a dispensary license have stopped pursuing the process.
"All of a sudden, with the lack of legal advice, we're seeing a lot of people kind of slow down, cool their jets just a little bit," executive director Chris Garth said.
"If clients cannot feel comfortable, there's not going to be any dispensaries," Pingree said. "There's not going to be anybody applying for a license."
Similar ethics rules and opinions have been amended in other medical marijuana states, so lawyers could assist clients in forming their dispensary businesses. About 20 Hawaii attorneys are asking the Hawaii Supreme Court to do that here.