Google “marijuana” and you’ll get a variety of articles and links on drug crimes, suggested medical benefits and the pot-head lifestyle. But behind this there is a serious and growing business that Hilary Bricken shares the legal ins and outs of on the Canna Law Blog.
“We’re not going to write about criminal defense. We’re not criminal defense attorneys. We’re not going to tell people how to get away with crimes, and we’re not going to teach people how to launder money. Aside from that, I’d say any topics is fair game,” said Bricken.
Shortly after joining Harris Moure in Seattle in 2010, Bricken became a cannabis business lawyer when a local criminal defense attorney approached the firm, which was already representing the food and alcohol industry, about assisting with his clients who were more focused on starting legitimate businesses instead of avoiding criminal penalties.
“(Clients) needed corporate advice and consultations. They needed to know about trademarks and contracts,” said Bricken. “I really thought there were opportunities for enterprise being that this was a gray area and people really needed help on how to comply with the law. … It snowballed, and when recreational use hit, it just exploded.”
Canna Law Blog started in 2012 – the year that Colorado and Washington state voters approved recreational pot use – to discuss some of the common issues that were coming up in consultations.
“We knew the blog would be a good platform to not only keep up to date with what’s going on in Washington, but also nationally as things expand,” said Bricken. “We really wanted to appeal to our readers who want to know what’s going on but don’t want to have a headache when they read our posts. We try to keep it relatively simple and useful.”
The blog avoids the puns and the low-brow lifestyle commonly associated with the marijuana industry to mirror the type of business savvy clients that Bricken represents.
“A lot of our clients have a lot business acumen. They’ve been in the corporate world before and they plan on running this business just like any other business. The majority of our clientele range from laboratories to ancillary businesses to producers, processors and retailers,” she said.
While keeping a pulse on the industry, the blog will discuss anything from the ethics of lawyers smoking pot to how cannabis brands can protect their trademarks. Because of the strong feelings that people have either for or against marijuana, Bricken said that the blog avoids criminal issues and advocacy.
“We tend to maintain a neutral tone because there is a lot of controversy in the industry, and we want to present a balanced perspective,” she said. “I don’t want to use the blog as a platform for advocacy unless I truly believe in something. In marijuana, that’s very hard to do because it’s still a moving object. The few topics that we do advocate on is when we talk about the federal government and how the war on drugs is absolutely absurd.”
The extent of the advocacy is the regular Quotable Saturday posts that are subtle jabs at government policy.
Because the blog’s readers range from clients to regulators to activists, Bricken wants to platform to promote a civil debate. Keeping things civil isn’t always easy, and Bricken has to filter out comments when they become personal attacks.
“Personal attacks are constant. They’re rampant,” she said. “You’ve got to realize the audience with which you’re dealing with especially in something like marijuana where the laws are changing and there’s a lot of oppression from the federal government.
“You’re going to get some very opinionated people and some people who are not necessarily all together there. You’re going to have to be diplomatic throughout that entire process to try to encourage debate that can be useful.”
For lawyers wanting to blog about controversial topics, Bricken said that they have to be committed and very prepared.
“Don’t do it unless you’re absolutely informed. It’s so easy to do a puff piece with a ton of links that essentially copies the Huffington Post. Do not do it unless you are 100 percent informed and expect adversity. Be strong in your positions and encourage debate.”