NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Lawyers are at the forefront of the movement to legalize marijuana with varying specialties, such as criminal defense, constitutional law, workplace drug policies and dispensary/grow facility know-how. Here’s a list of five lawyers to watch as legal medical and recreational marijuana continues to sweep the nation in 2015.
1. Drug policy varies from state to state, leaving national employers with a patchwork of marijuana drug testing policies to work through. Danielle Urban is a labor and employment attorney in Colorado who advises confused employers on marijuana-related human resource issues.
“Some employers want to stay out of their employees’ personal lives and have suspended testing, because they don’t know what to do about marijuana use or they would like to accommodate some low-level use but there are no readily available workplace impairment tests,” said Urban.
Even though cannabis is legal in Colorado, employees can be fired from their jobs for testing positive for marijuana.
“Employers need coherent, common-sense guidance that a federal policy would provide,” Urban said.
Because impairment cannot be easily tested, employers worry that employees who are impaired by marijuana use will harm themselves or others in the workplace, creating liability issues.
“More research is needed to determine what constitutes impairment for work-safety purposes and the long-term health effects of marijuana use,” said Urban.
Corporate zero tolerance policies pose their own problems.
“Many employers are terrified they will be sued if they have zero tolerance policies and fire someone with a medical card,” Urban told MainStreet.
2. San Diego attorney Mara Felsen began specializing in marijuana law after becoming a medical marijuana patient from multiple back surgeries and chronic pain following a car accident. Professional expertise in constitutional, criminal and administrative law creates her unique perspective. Going forward, she sees the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart as a significant obstacle to legalization on a federal level.
“It may take a more proactive head of the Department of Justice to reign in Michele,” Felsen told MainStreet. “She is no friend of marijuana and the DEA is not afraid to overstep its bounds. Michele Leonhart is a big black eye and an embarrassment to the Justice Department.”
3. The state of legalization in Michigan has involved passing local ballot initiatives which peel back city ordinances that prohibit marijuana use. Counselor Matthew Abel’s areas of expertise include criminal defense as well as U.S.-Canadian border smuggling issues, asset forfeiture that victimize clients and questionable drug testing procedures.
“A new legislature will be seated in January with new members in both the House and the Senate and activists are gearing up to provide materials to welcome and educate members on the benefits of ending prohibition,” Abel told MainStreet. “Legalization is inevitable. The question is when and how it will occur.”
4. For the last eight years, Michael Minardi has criminally defended people charged with possession of marijuana in West Palm Beach, Fla. Minardi works to reduce the sentences of his clients who are typically over 40 years old and suffer from conditions, such as AIDS, COPD, fibromyalgia and glaucoma.
“The denial of Amendment 2 will not change my practice of defending patients who have been arrested for using cannabis as medicine and are presenting a medical necessity defense,” Minardi told MainStreet. Amendment 2 would have legalized marijuana for medical purposes on November 4, but it failed to pass. Minardi is legal director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) for the state of Florida and is on the national legal committee for NORML.
5. Jeffrey Feiler maintains offices in Florida and Colorado, where he provides legal advice to anyone who wants to grow or dispense commercial marijuana. In addition to being a criminal trial attorney, Feiler founded Grass Roots Ventures, which has affiliate programs such as Asa Cannabis Genetics to provide state-of-the-art medical marijuana testing of high-CBD strains.
"Growing of the Cannabis plant is not simple especially when it is to be done as an organic medication, prohibiting the use of chemicals to control pests," Feiler said.
—Written for MainStreet by Juliette Fairley