Heather Burke
Heather Burke ()

Heather Burke always knew she wanted to practice cannabis law.

When the lawyer from Nevada City, California, located about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento, graduated from high school in Southern California almost two decades ago, the Golden State was just legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Burke’s pot-smoking friends’ encounters with law enforcement inspired her to help other people navigate the system.

“My entire adult life has been synonymous with walking through the legal process,” she said. “I really have vivid memories of seeing people get arrested for small amounts of cannabis.”

But the shape of her chosen career looks a little different than it did in 2009, when Burke, then a law student, interned at the Turner Law Group under Lance Rogers, the attorney fighting to obtain the first license for a large-scale dispensary in California. State voters legalized recreational marijuana use in 2016, transforming Burke’s caseload “almost overnight” from primarily criminal felony cases to a range of corporate, employment and intellectual property issues.

This week, Burke moved her solo practice representing small growers in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to a new roof at Greenspoon Marder, where Rogers now heads up the California branch of the Florida-based firm’s year-old cannabis practice. Burke is joining Greenspoon Marder as a partner.

“Greenspoon Marder offered to help support us in some of the stuff that we need,” Burke said. “We don’t have big firms out here—it’s the country. A lot of these very sophisticated concepts are front and center out here in the country, because that’s where a lot of cannabis is being produced.”

Greenspoon Marder has been one of the most active firms expanding into the legal marijuana space, opening new offices across the country within the past year to cultivate clients in a growing field.

The Fort Lauderdale-based Am Law 200 firm set up shop a year ago this month in Denver, Las Vegas and San Diego to capitalize on the cannabis industries in those jurisdictions, which are moving through the often convoluted process of legalizing marijuana. In November, Greenspoon Marder opened another office in Portland, Oregon, after bringing on Amy Margolis, a founder of the Oregon Cannabis political action committee and the Oregon Cannabis Association.

It was through Margolis that Burke connected with Greenspoon Marder, she said. A friend of Burke’s who runs a high-tech greenhouse company in Nevada County—located east of California’s so-called Emerald Triangle—met Margolis at the CannaTech conference in Israel. When the friend mentioned where he was from, Margolis said she had been watching Burke’s work in that part of California. Introductions between the two soon followed.

“California is an increasingly important market for our clients in the cannabis sector, particularly in light of the historic passing of Proposition 64 legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016,” Greenspoon Marder’s co-managing director Gerald Greenspoon said in a statement. “We are excited to continue to grow our team of highly experienced and passionate cannabis attorneys who have been instrumental in the development of cannabis legislation in California.”

Burke, who has written for industry publications like High Times, the latter of which sold a controlling stake in itself earlier this month for roughly $42 million, said that despite the rapid changes to her field of law, her enthusiasm about it has remained constant.

“My clients are exceptional people,” Burke said. “That’s a thing I love about it, that I don’t have to work for jerks.”

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