There is no doubt that the cannabis industry in the U.S. is booming. According to the 2019 Marijuana Business Factbook, retail sales of medical and recreational cannabis in the United States are on pace to eclipse $12 billion by the end of 2019 and could rise as high as $30 billion by 2023. As with any burgeoning industry, the patchwork legal and regulatory landscape continues to evolve and vacillate, baffling many business owners. 

As the industry continues to develop, successful cannabis businesses will need to hire competent counsel to help navigate these murky waters. Finding the right cannabis lawyer is essential for any cannabis business to launch on solid footing and ensure future growth and expansion while avoiding any legal pitfalls that could jeopardize success

While there are many factors to consider when hiring an attorney, it is critical to take the following into consideration:

Is the candidate a cannabis law specialist?

Whether seeking in-house or outside counsel, look for someone who focuses primarily on cannabis – not just as an ancillary service. With the increasing growth of the legal cannabis market, many attorneys who specialize in other areas took on cannabis law as an additional source of business, but may lack the requisite attention and industry knowledge that a cannabis attorney has. Cannabis rules and regulations change constantly and require focused attention to fully understand, articulate, and put into practice.

(Important note: an experienced cannabis attorney may not be the right person to assist you with other necessary areas of business law such as employment law, intellectual property law, tax law, etc. You may need to seek additional counsel in these areas.)

Does the attorney have deep expertise in the jurisdictions in which your business is operating?

Find counsel that is intimately familiar with the rules and regulations of the locality that your business operates in. There can be a wide array of legal stumbling blocks specific to a particular jurisdiction. It is paramount that the attorney you select is well-versed on local cannabis laws and regulations that will govern your business. Seek out counsel who has their finger on the pulse of all local and statewide regulatory changes that can affect your business as well as help your business evolve and adapt to the quickly shifting landscape.

Sit face-to-face and interview your candidate thoroughly. Ask them what they know about the cannabis industry, who they are currently working with, what products are currently being sold in the area, challenges they have recently faced, and to give an overview of the industry as a whole from their perspective.

Who are their references and connections to the cannabis industry as a whole?

An informed cannabis lawyer should be well connected with a wide variety of industry influencers, such as lobbyists and government officials. Established relationships with regulators can help equip attorneys with the latest regulatory changes, as well as industry trends and trouble spots to prepare for. Additionally, many regulatory decisions are made by officials who aren’t familiar with how the cannabis industry works, so having a well connected cannabis attorney may also give you some sway in influencing regulatory decisions that could benefit your business. 

Don’t hesitate to ask for both past and current client references. Be sure to follow up with these contacts and ask the appropriate questions that should ultimately help in making your decision.

Is the attorney well-known and trusted in the industry?

A great place to vett your counsel can be at large cannabis industry events. Keep an eye out for lawyers who are chosen to speak at these types of events — if a lawyer has been deemed a cannabis legal expert and is a trusted source by established industry insiders, chances are they are a solid source of competent counsel. If they are a featured speaker or educator, this will give you some insight into the depth of their knowledge and their ability to articulate confusing regulations in a practical and understandable way. You want counsel who can speak intelligently about the industry, but also break things down for you and your employees to ensure you are compliant with all laws and regulations in your day-to-day business activities.

Is your candidate eager, adaptable and communicative?

Whether you are in the early stages of building your cannabis business or have been operating for some time, working in the cannabis industry can bring daily legal challenges and gray areas to navigate. It is essential to hire responsive and communicative counsel who will not only promptly address your business needs as they arise, but act proactively as well. The ideal candidate should be constantly hungry to take on challenges and eager to learn – this will ensure you have counsel that is on top of any changes that could jeopardize your success. 

As you can probably tell, it is essential that you consult an attorney for expert legal advice, no matter what stage of business you are in. Take your time vetting multiple attorneys and make sure you ask appropriate questions that will test their level of knowledge and expertise on cannabis regulations in your jurisdiction. Competent legal counsel will make sure your cannabis business rests on a solid foundation so you can focus on the day to day activities of your business and maximize profits.