In the Brand New Field of Medical Marijuana Law, Pittsburgh Firm Sees Plenty of Potential Work

The shingle went up just a few weeks ago: a three-attorney Downtown firm, Cannabis Legal Solutions, LLC, has formed the first local practice specializing in medical marijuana law — but it likely won’t be the last.

With Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program preparing for launch next year, the legal profession is already getting in position “to help shape a burgeoning industry in Pennsylvania” as the Pennsylvania Bar Association phrased it when forming a medical marijuana and hemp law committee early this year.

Burgeoning or not, a new law firm specializing in legal marijuana matters may look like a risky venture to the unlitigated eye.

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is still months from starting and state officials have so far issued only 12 grower-processor permits and 26 medical marijuana dispensary permits for the entire state.

That’s not exactly a large client base to draw from.

But the three Cannabis Legal Solutions partners — Patrick Nightingale, Andrew Gross and Alan Patterson — see real potential for this new area of law, even with competing medical marijuana firms in Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

“I think there’s plenty of work for everybody,” said Mr. Nightingale, who is already well known in marijuana legalization advocacy circles for his nearly nine-year tenure as executive director of Pennsylvania’s chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Mr. Gross and Mr. Patterson have had their own law practice for more than 20 years, primarily representing clients in bankruptcy proceedings. The Gross & Patterson firm will continue, the pair say, at least for now.

Cannabis Legal is not necessarily targeting grower/processor or dispensary permit holders, Mr. Nightingale said.

“There’s going to be any number of start-up companies and business enterprises looking to carve a little niche out of the cannabis industry.”

One of their clients, Compassionate Certification Centers, is opening an office in Gateway 2, Downtown, and plans another in Butler where patients can see a physician who, based on the patient’s medical condition, can certify them for medical marijuana use.

Between getting guidance for preparing corporation documents to making sure their patient education material meets standards, “I probably email [Cannabis Legal Solutions] 20 times a week,” said Melonie Kotchey, chief operating officer for the centers.

Mr. Nightingale sees a variety of other ancillary businesses needing their services, too, involving matters as mundane as workplace lighting and product packaging or as emotional as child custody disputes.

Medical marijuana also can become an issue for almost any business that has employees, he said.

Under the Pennsylvania law passed in 2016, companies must make “reasonable accommodation” for workers certified to use marijuana for a medical condition, as long as it doesn’t put its own business at risk, Mr. Nightingale said.

Companies holding federal contracts often have to attest that theirs is a drug-free workplace — and the federal government considers marijuana an illegal drug in all of its forms. In that situation, an employer may have to transfer the worker to another site, Mr. Nightingale said.

Medical marijuana may seem to be a highly specialized practice but it’s one that can cut across the legal spectrum, which means a whole new area of case law may be on the horizon.

They’re not expecting clients to see them as experts in every area of legal practice, Mr. Nightingale said.

But if medical marijuana use becomes an issue in any of them, “We want to be in that position where people who are either patients, or business owners, or employers, look at us as a first stop.”

Source: Steve Twedt, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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