As more states opt for marijuana legalization, many lawyers and banks have been reluctant to service marijuana related industries due to the drug’s illegal status under federal law. Some lawyers find themselves in an ethical dilemma when considering whether to represent a client who is knowingly engaging in illegal activity. Banks face a similar quandary as they too are leery of allowing deposits from a known illegal source. Because of this, American Bar Association (“ABA”), which is the national representative of the legal profession, urges lawmakers to enact legislation that will remove marijuana’s illegal federal status and allow lawyers and banks to do business with cannabis companies without fear of prosecution.
ABA Resolutions Intended To Promote Cannabis-Related Legal Protections For Banks, Lawyers
Earlier this year, the ABA House of Delegates adopted two resolutions designed to call on lawmakers to pass legislation that would protect lawyers and banks from prosecution for providing services to marijuana businesses where the drug is legal. With over 30 states currently legalizing marijuana in some form, there is a lack of law firms and banks who are willing to service the cannabis industry due to the drug’s unclear federal status and future. To be clear, the resolutions seek to provide protection for lawyers and banks only where the drug is already legal.
These resolutions come on the heels of ABA’s efforts last year to get Congress to declassify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Currently, marijuana is classified as having no scientific or medicinal use and is placed along the same lines as heroin and LSD. Alternatively, the ABA advocates removing marijuana altogether from classification and creating a separate regulatory entity like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”). Unfortunately, those calls for reform have fallen on deaf ears. Not only that, but the current administration has taken steps to roll back protections implemented by the Obama administration.
Support For Marijuana Legalization Likely To Grow
Calls for marijuana reform are nothing new. While there was optimism last year when the House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, momentum stalled when the proposed legislation sat idle in the Senate. Further, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole Memorandum – an Obama-era policy that directed the Justice Department not to prosecute cases in states where marijuana is legal. It should be noted; however, that current Attorney General William Barr said he supports a softer approach to cannabis enforcement and changes to federal laws.
Analyst have predicted that the marijuana business will be worth $30 billion in the next five years. Many believe that with that much cash on the table, it is only a matter of time until federal legislation mirrors the will of the people. Still, with many of the more conservative states holding firm on keeping marijuana illegal, it remains to be seen when change will come at the federal level. The ABA is hoping that they can be the catalyst to facilitate that change sooner rather than later.