BREAKING: Hawaii Changes Ethics Rules for Cannabis Lawyers

Hawaii and Medical Marijuanablogged previously about how Hawaii attorney ethics rules prohibit lawyers from assisting cannabis businesses. That just changed.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Hawai’i amended its rules to now allow lawyers to advise cannabis businesses. Just four days after the public comment period ended on the proposed rule change — which is astonishingly fast by any standard — the Court issued an order changing Hawaii’s attorney ethics rules to allow attorneys to represent cannabis businesses. This is a good and a timely change, coming when so many in the cannabis business are just gearing up to go through Hawaii’s rigorous cannabis licensing application process.

Hawaii’s amended ethical rules now read (the changes are underlined):

Rule 1.2(d) A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent, but a lawyer may discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct with a client and may counsel or assist a client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, meaning, or application of the law, and may counsel or assist a client regarding conduct expressly permitted by Hawai’i law, provided that the  lawyer counsels the client about the legal consequences, under other applicable law, of the client’s proposed course of conduct.

This change is identical to the rule approved last week by the Illinois Supreme Court, which took more than a year to consider and pass. Usually, when state supreme courts modify their ethics rules, their effective date is delayed by a few weeks or months (Illinois’s change officially takes place January 1, 2016). What’s unusual about Hawaii’s rule change is that it is effective immediately, meaning that the ethical landscape for attorneys advising cannabis businesses changed literally overnight.

The Hawaii State Bar Association is putting on its annual convention this week and Hawaii’s new medical marijuana dispensary laws is one of its hot topics. I will be speaking at the afternoon panel on marijuana regulatory and security considerations, and it’s comforting to know that the attorneys in attendance won’t have to take anything with (ethical) grains of salt.

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