Law firms’ latest fast-track sectors include cannabis, of course

By Brett Johnson
New Jersey | Nov 16, 2018 at 7:10 am
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Staying ahead of the curve has become crucial for law firms when it comes to an industry such as cannabis, in which many of the state’s firms have raced to form practices during the past year.

Gene Markin, partner at Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, said a new industry like this has the potential to bring in business in the form of needed guidance on real estate, land use, tax law, patents and many other legal areas. 

“The growth of an industry like cannabis is going to be exciting; unlike anything we’ve seen,” Markin said. “There’s already a number of clients needing services, people who are entrepreneurs in the industry hitting road bumps as well as larger firms navigating certain compliance issues.”

John Fanburg of Brach Eichler LLC said the involvement of law firms with the cannabis issue — and the potential of latecomers to this practice missing out — shows that there’s no time that’s too early to take on legal services for clients in emerging businesses.

“Frankly, some colleagues in other firms were snickering a little bit at something like getting into cannabis,” he said. “But, very quickly, they started having to take it seriously.”

Underlying this trend is the fact that clients in emerging industries tend to have different expectations and interactions with a law firm, Peter Levy of Mandelbaum Salsburg P.C. said. 

Unsurprisingly, those involved in cutting-edge technologies and industries expect legal answers to arrive with an immediacy that matches the movement of the modern platforms they’re used to.

“These clients expect answers at a much more rapid pace,” Levy said. “Some of that is the influence of millennials in these businesses. This is a generation that grew up under a very different culture and technological norm. It’s another new development we’re learning how to navigate.”

With cannabis, however, it has become a matter of “hurry up and wait” in New Jersey.

And all those cannabis legal practices planted in expectation of a swift movement to expanded legalization have done a lot of waiting. 

Markin said they’ve been watching for a final bill to be signed off on by the state Legislature. It hasn’t happened, and there aren’t that many legislative sessions left in the year.  

“The plan was to have something into law by the end of the year,” he said. “We’re not sure that’s still going to happen.”

New Jersey lawmakers scrapped a scheduled Oct. 29 vote on a bill to legalize recreational marijuana due to some points of contention between Gov. Phil Murphy and other policymakers.

Fanburg, however, said he’s still thinking an accord will be reached by year-end.

“Depending on when this law gets through, assuming it is before the end of the year — we’re going to have two new industries, including sports betting, here in New Jersey within the same year,” he said. “That’s pretty remarkable.”

In a forecast of how large the industry could get in the Garden State, Fanburg said he was surprised to see Colorado this year so far had generated more than $1 billion in revenue between medical and adult recreational use of cannabis. But that legalization went online in 2014.

“So, it will take some time to really grow to that here,” Fanburg said. “There’s a long road to providing access for both medicinal and recreational marijuana use.”