Marijuana Business Magazine - February 2018

Heizer relies on a mix of in-house and outside counsel. He backs up Ramirez’s philosophy on a lawyer’s need to specialize in cannabis. Heizer’s advice to young associates interested in getting into the busi- ness: “If you want to be a cannabis lawyer, be a cannabis lawyer. It’s not something you should moonlight at.” Heizer also emphasized it’s impor- tant to hire someone who’s familiar with the locality he or she will be working in. “Relationships with the regulators matter almost as much as knowledge of the regulations themselves,” he said. Many regulatory decisions are made by officials who aren’t familiar with how the cannabis business works. “The opportunity to educate a regulator oftentimes is really valu- able,” he added. Heizer also seeks candidates who’ve dealt with government departments and regulatory agencies, either as a government attorney or a regulatory counsel for a private business working on behalf of the government. Such people would include lawyers who have worked with state enforce- ment agencies or regulatory bodies – or, on the other side, attorneys who have worked as lobbyists on behalf of private marijuana companies. For Ramirez, the challenge is finding someone who knows both marijuana and business law. Ramirez relies on outside lawyers. He said it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of attorneys are skilled in marijuana law – they know the regu- lations and are good at compliance and lobbying. But they often are not “very good at the actual legal side of business needs,” he said. For example, an attorney well-versed in marijuana policy might not understand how to evaluate employment contracts. Ramirez looks for an attorney who has been involved in marijuana industry trade groups, lobbying efforts or pro-cannabis referendums – anything of that nature. “The bottom line is that you want someone who’s really well-versed in the rules and regulations that are unique to your industry,” he added. That includes local laws. For exam- ple, Ramirez also owns a store in Den- ver, the High Rollers Dispensary, so he wants an attorney who’s well-versed in municipal code and cannabis regu- lations. Like Heizer, he wants someone local to where the business is located. WHAT TO LOOK FOR Heizer wants an attorney who is curious about how his cannabis business works and is willing to learn. HIRINGWARNING FLAGS W hen hiring an outside or in-house attorney to represent your can- nabis business, watch out for former criminal defense lawyers, people who promise too much and attorneys who lag in getting back to you. Dean Heizer, chief legal strategist for Denver-based retailer LivWell, avoids anyone who has a reputation for being averse to government regulators. He also sidesteps anyone who has a lengthy marijuana client list chock full of people who have engaged in the gray or black markets. A fair number of attorneys in the marijuana industry previously were criminal defense lawyers, he said. Some of themmaintain that practice as well as their cannabis regulatory practice. “For our company, that’s not an affiliation that we believe adds cred- ibility. I do not want to blur that line with my counsel,” he said. “I don’t want anybody thinking that I hired that person because they’re going to cover my butt because I engaged in illegal behavior, because I’m not. It’s a perception thing.” Luke Ramirez, principal owner of Farm Grass Table dispensaries in Portland, Oregon, advises a healthy dose of skepticism. “Just like other aspects of this industry, you avoid people who can promise you the moon,” he said. “Anyone who says they can wave a magic wand and get things done is usually not what you’re going to want to go for.” JimMakoso, co-owner and vice president of Lucid Labs – an extraction branding and licensing company with locations in Nevada and Washing- ton state – said when you’re paying someone for their services by the hour you want somebody who’s going to be responsive to your needs. “If I don’t get a callback or an email in a timely manner, they get crossed off the list no matter how qualified they are.” – Bart Schaneman Luke Ramirez owns retail marijuana stores in Portland, Oregon, and Denver. 94 • Marijuana Business Magazine • February 2018