South Dakota attorneys warned against working with marijuana companies

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The State Bar of South Dakota ethics committee warned attorneys in the state against taking marijuana businesses as clients, which could discourage lawyers from working with the industry there.

The opinion was published earlier this week in the bar association’s newsletter, according to Sioux Falls TV station KELO.

The committee’s action is common in states that have recently legalized cannabis. Similar opinions have been expressed in several states, including New Mexico, Ohio and Oklahoma.

Other states have taken steps to protect attorneys that work with marijuana companies, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The South Dakota opinion cites a rule from the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which, in summary, explains that a lawyer shall not counsel or assist a client in “conduct the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.”

The rule doesn’t distinguish between activities that are illegal under South Dakota law or federal law.

The opinion goes on to note that an attorney “may not ethically provide legal services to assist a client in establishing, licensing, or otherwise operating a marijuana business.”

Lawyers may give advice only about the potential legal consequences of running a cannabis company, according to the opinion.

South Dakota voters passed measures legalizing both medical and adult-use marijuana in the November election.

But a lawsuit filed later that month in state circuit court is slowing the process and could add yet another obstacle to the South Dakota rollout.