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    11.15.17 CUBE Panel Explores Legal Issues and Business Opportunities in Cannabis Industry
    CUBE Panel Explores Legal Issues and Business Opportunities in Cannabis Industry

    The nascent cannabis industry and changes in drug laws are offering opportunities for new entrepreneurial endeavors as well as long sought-after criminal justice reforms. Those dual themes were discussed by a panel of lawyers, entrepreneurs, legislators, and activists—including several graduates—who spoke at a packed event at the Law School on Nov. 6. The program, “Cannabis Law—From Criminalization to Opportunity,” was sponsored by CUBE (Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship) and the Center for Criminal Justice.

    Moderated by Professor Jocelyn Simonson, the seven-member panel discussed the past, present, and future of cannabis law from a wide range of perspectives, including legal and regulatory issues that have arisen with the modernization and expansion of the cannabis market. The panelists shared their ideas on establishing a framework for success in the burgeoning industry, as well as the kind of roles aspiring lawyers can play.

    Chris Alexander, Policy Coordinator in the New York Policy Office of the Drug Policy Alliance, discussed the history of inequality related to enforcement of cannabis laws, noting that nearly 90 percent of pot-possession arrests in New York State since the state’s Legislature decriminalized possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana in 1977 involve blacks and Latinos—despite numerous national surveys showing equal usage by people of color and whites.  

    “I have a job because this is a historic problem, a racially motivated bias problem,” said Alexander.

    New York State Senator Liz Krueger, an advocate for more progressive regulation, taxation, and decriminalization of the cannabis industry, spoke about a bill she introduced in 2013 and the process of refining it into what she believes still could serve as model legislation for the country today. Her proposed bill focuses on investing in communities with revenue gained by taxing and regulating marijuana in the same manner as alcohol and tobacco.

    Joseph Bondy '94, a federal criminal defense lawyer who has advised and represented clients on cannabis matters for more than 20 years, agreed with the need for new cannabis policy as it relates to social and criminal justice, noting that a pot conviction carries collateral consequences that leave a deeper, more permanent stain on someone’s life.

    “It’s not merely about going to prison, it’s about living with the stain and stigma,” said Bondy.

    He also encouraged law students to explore the field. “Anything in which you could possibly be interested as a law student is available to you in this nascent industry,” he said. “There is no limitation on the things that you as law students can do.” 

    Jordan Wellington '09, Compliance Director at Vicente Sederberg LLC, shared his experience as a cannabis industry pioneer. As a Colorado state legislature staffer in 2013, he shepherded legislation through the Colorado General Assembly related to the implementation of Amendment 64, which outlined a statewide drug policy for cannabis, and the legalization of marijuana. He then was hired by the Colorado Department of Revenue's Marijuana Enforcement Division to serve as the sole policy analyst during the development and drafting of the rules governing retail marijuana and the revised rules governing medical marijuana.

    “Cannabis regulation involves complicated policy—but reform in a responsible way can ensure the industry’s continued growth and development of best practices,” said Wellington. “The opportunities for lawyers in the industry are endless—from medical issues to pesticide and agricultural applications to packaging and distribution.” 

    The panel also included David Feder '10, a Partner at Regosin, Edwards, Stone & Feder; Nick Vita, CEO of Columbia Care, the nation’s largest provider of medical marijuana; and Harrison Phillips, Vice President at Viridian Capital Advisors, who addressed the financial and investment aspects of the cannabis industry.

    Read more coverage of the program here.