Duane Morris has been representing cannabis clients for a few years, and now the firm is casting its lot even more closely with the fledgling industry.
The Philadelphia-based Am Law 100 firm is partnering with the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp. ATACH promotes the expansion of legal marijuana sales for industrial, medical and adult recreational use, and its members include businesses in the marijuana and hemp industry, as well as established companies looking to enter it. According to both sides, it’s the first time a national cannabis trade organization has teamed up with an Am Law 100 law firm.
ATACH’s board of directors includes representatives of companies directly dependent on cannabis—like Medicine Man, a large dispensary in Chicago—as well as companies with specialized products and services that entered the cannabis industry more recently, like Boveda Inc., which creates humidity-controlled packaging for specific products, now including cannabis.
In a statement, ATACH president Michael Bronstein called the arrangement “a game changer.”
“Over the last few years, Duane Morris’ lawyers have demonstrated they are uniquely qualified to provide a full range of legal services to the cannabis industry, having advised big-time market movers, ancillary businesses and startups alike throughout the U.S. and abroad,” Bronstein said.
Duane Morris has a presence in 14 of the states that have legalized cannabis for medical use, and in five of the states that have legalized recreational use by adults. Clients of its practice include cannabis operators, retailers and financiers like Woodstock Products Co. International, Tidal Royalty Corp., iAnthus Capital and Green Thumb Industries.
According to Seth Goldberg, chair of the firm’s cannabis practice group, Duane Morris has been representing clients in cannabis-related issues since 2015. He noted that it has dovetailed well with the firm’s existing pharmaceutical and medical device practice and its life sciences practice.
Through the arrangement, Duane Morris and ATACH will work together on educational events and serve as a resource to one another, he said. The partnership will allow the law firm to raise its profile among cannabis businesses, Goldberg said, and connect with potential clients.
“Both ATACH and Duane Morris want to contribute to the emergence of the cannabis industry and to support the industry leaders in driving the cannabis industry to greater heights,” Goldberg said.
Not long ago, Big Law firms were hesitant to become linked with the cannabis industry. Even now, as more U.S. states—and, recently, the entirety of Canada—legalize the substance within their own bounds, the U.S. Department of Justice categorizes marijuana as an illegal drug.
Still, changes to the state laws and bar association ethical guidance have been followed by greater firm interest in cannabis law.
“I think the number of law firms getting involved and being more public about their involvement is really a reflection of the growth of the industry, and the fact that it has really become a consumer products industry with the kinds of commercial arrangements, the kinds of real property arrangements, the kinds of tax issues, the kinds of financial transactions that require legal services,” Goldberg said.
“It’s been our view that the conflict between the federal and state regulatory structures requires lawyers to be advising businesses and individuals who want to participate in the state legal space,” he added.
And though the marketplace is young, the deals and cases cannabis lawyers are working on aren’t all small.
Last week, for instance, Illinois-based PharmaCann, founded by ex-partners of law firm Polsinelli, was sold to MedMen Enterprises for $682 million. The companies’ in-house lawyers led the deal, co-founder Jeremy Unruh told The American Lawyer, though locally based Fox Rothschild had a hand in it as well, according to the firm.