AARON PELLEY, FOUNDER OF CULTIVA LAW, HAS BUILT ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED CANNABIS LAW FIRMS ON THE WEST COAST
Aaron wanted to make it known that the firm was around before the green rush. Furthermore, he intends to remain long after cannabis would be considered an emerging market. He established a boutique law firm; one of the largest that focuses specifically and exclusively on cannabis.
Cannabis Law is the main focus, not some side project of a larger firm. They are not waiting for the next bitcoin or another fad to chase. The firm has organically expanded into the states that his clients wanted to be in and continues to be a beacon of knowledge and strength, for cannabis companies, across the west coast.
The following interview was edited for clarity and publication style
RMR: Aaron, tell us how you came to create Cultiva Law? It was a fairly well-established firm, founded originally in 2007. How did this all start?
Aaron Pelley: I was going to law school in Salem, Oregon, and when I moved to Seattle in 2006. I wanted to work in an area of law that gave my life a little more meaning and focused my practice on the War on Drugs. I took on numerous high profile cannabis cases. Some of the biggest in the Northwest. I enjoyed being connected to the medical cannabis community but by 2010, most of the outlaws I was defending were wanting me to help them with their lease agreements and partnerships. I saw an opportunity to build something, under the cannabis niche I had already been practicing with for years. It was an easy transition, once I had the right team in place. At the time, the Cultiva Law had just a few lawyers, but over the years we have followed our clients and branched out to other states and built a brilliant team, all up and down the West Coast. In some ways, I am doing the same thing my clients are doing, building a reputation and brand that represents our values and work ethic and slowly moving into new markets.
RMR: What were you doing before law school?
Aaron Pelley: I came from a working-class family and held a number of working-class jobs. I worked a union job for a number of years that put me through law school and for a short time I was a teacher.
RMR: What led you to law school?
Aaron Pelley: Well, for those old enough to remember, my dad watched an old, black and white show called Perry Mason, every day when he came home for lunch. For a while, at least, I wanted to be Perry Mason.
RMR: What led you to cannabis, as a focus in your practice?
Aaron Pelley: It was not completely by accident. I was already involved with a non-profit that was focused on patients’ rights and had been working on some smaller “reclamation” projects, forcing the police to give back cannabis to patients. A rather large case came along, where the police had seized a couple’s medical marijuana. Ten pounds. We resolved the case and I got a court order that forced the police to give my clients back his ten pounds of cannabis in one and half pound increments. Making it the first police station that was also a dispensary. That case got a lot of press, so I embraced the moniker “pot lawyer” way before it was cool and long before it was corporate.
RMR: When you started out, before full legalization, what did you like about the practice, what stands out looking back?
Aaron Pelley: I think it was a different culture. Everyone was coming together for legalization. For the plant. For the larger principals. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of egos and a lot of people were very polarizing and divisive. But, I was lucky to be in the middle of one of the most important movements of my generation and even if things didn’t turn out the way everyone wanted, or in some cases, even hoped, it is still amazing to walk into a fully built-out grow and see thousands of pounds of cannabis growing. Just a few years earlier people were going to prison and now they are being profiled in Forbes. It’s inspiring. We fought for that.
RMR: So you obviously changed your practice as it moved from medical to recreational.
Aaron Pelley: That’s right. I continued to get more exposure to new practice areas but I recognized that my strength was being a trial lawyer and that my clients’ needs started to extend beyond that. They needed attorneys that understood mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, securities, product liability, and just a host of other areas in corporate law. It was not enough to be a great trial lawyer. I needed to build a team. I have been really lucky because we attract amazing talent and we have built a unique culture for our firm. And I get to stay in my lane and do what I do.
RMR: Are you still in the courtroom?
Aaron Pelley: Yes. It is still my passion. I enjoy building a case and getting it in front of a judge or jury. It’s a performance and art. We handle a lot of civil cases and I also do a lot of work defending licenses for violations. Nowadays, I also do a lot more dispute resolution than I used to and I have begun to embrace the value of mediation and the importance of finding a solution short of going to trial. But going to trial and winning a case will always be what gets me out of bed in the morning. But also, there is a lot of work managing the firm and working with the other attorneys.
RMR: What about the other attorneys at your firm?
Aaron Pelley: We have a pretty fantastic team at each of the offices. They are all skilled in their trade. As I was saying earlier, we are really lucky to attract really talented lawyers. They all were seeking out this particular area of law for one reason or another and they have all sacrificed to help me build a strong multi-state firm. I think of them as my family and we all lean on each other because we come from such diverse backgrounds.