Washington’s Initiative 502 made possession and sales of recreational marijuana legal, but things are still tricky, at least from a legal perspective.
“We thought I-502 would change or limit our business, but really it’s tripled our business,” said Frank Cikutovich, of Spokane’s Stiley & Cikutovich, PLLC, a Spokane firm that specializes in criminal law including marijuana.
Much of his work stems from persistent misconceptions about what ages can use or possess pot. Legally, you have to be at least 21, but that may not stop an underage college student from trying pot at a party. Cikutovich said people need to know how a conviction could affect their life.
“It’s not a free-for-all,” he said. “You can get kicked out of school. You will lose the ability to get student loans. It’s terrible what happens to these kids.”
Possession of larger amounts of marijuana beyond ‘personal use,’ driving-related charges and the growing of unlicensed or unregulated marijuana are also areas in which “weed law” remains active in state criminal courts.
“When medical marijuana first passed, our firm would conduct weekend classes open to anyone,” Cikutovich said. “Our focus has always been to educate so that the government will hopefully stay out of their lives.”
And then there’s the elephant in the room. Cannabis remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law, and there is growing concern that the Trump administration is looking for ways to increase enforcement efforts.
“If Trump or (Attorney General) Jeff Sessions wake up and decide to enforce federal law, there isn’t anything we can do about it,” Cikutovich said. “Dozens of growers are scared of losing what they’ve invested. Big growers have spent millions and some have failed to even make a profit.”
While Cikutovich doesn’t specialize in cannabis business consultation, his office regularly receives questions about the complexities of the state’s growing industry and how to get into it.
“The regulations are mind-blowing,” he said.
He sees over-aggressive security measures, documentation of individual seedlings, waste management, firearm restrictions and limited banking options as just some of the difficulties businesses face.
“We’d like to see looser regulations on the industry,” he said. “(In the beginning) everybody was hypersensitive about marijuana, and it’s not necessary.”
The projected fear of robberies at these businesses has proven to be minimal, he said, so the state would be better served to treat the industry like any other business sector.
“The more money they make, the more taxes the state collects,” he said.
Another legal resource is Spokane attorney Lisa Dickinson, who specializes in business inquiries like lease contracts, employment law, zoning issues and compliance with state regulations. She advises anyone looking into the industry to do their homework.
“Beware of the ‘new’ folks advertising to say they do marijuana law or consulting – it has only been around for a couple years,” Dickinson said. “You are much better off working with an experienced business attorney and accountant who is also knowledgeable about I-502 laws and rules.”
Dickinson is also concerned about a potential shift in federal policy, which would impact the role of attorneys.
“If the federal stance changes, our ethical rules may not allow us to ethically represent these kinds of businesses,” she said.
Still, Dickinson remains optimistic.
“There is still a lot of opportunity for people to get into this industry, and I hope to help them navigate the rules and regulations,” Dickinson said.