State cannabis-related business laws aren't as simple as you might have thought. Carlos N. Martinez, Esq. of Legal Solutions of New Mexico, LLC, discusses how cannabis laws affect family and business law litigation.
Weekly Alibi: Your firm places an emphasis on cannabis law. Why the interest?
Martinez: Throughout our firm’s history, cannabis law has made multiple appearances in the areas that we practice in. The topic comes up a lot with child custody situations in multiple jurisdictions throughout the state as well as employment law issues. Specifically, issues regarding the workplace—whether it be within dispensaries, the grow houses, manufacturing warehouses, testing labs or wherever they're conducting operations. Cannabis law issues almost always go hand-in-hand with businesses. For example: dealing with local ordinances, state laws, federal laws, zoning, taxes—it touches a lot of different areas of the law that most people may or may not even realize exist.
So we’ve tried to brand ourselves as a law firm that recognizes the need for attorneys who understand the ever-evolving cannabis industry and are open and accepting of clients in that industry. We help them out in regards to what they can and cannot do here in the state of New Mexico—how we can support them and help them stay legal, help them maintain their licenses and grow their businesses.
Unfortunately we all saw a producer lose their license recently, and we would like to help prevent that for our clients. The state's demand is already very high and growing, and the supply has, to this point, not been able to keep up with demand.
We work with clients that are already in the industry, or clients who are looking to get into the industry, clients who are trying to merge with other businesses or companies looking to navigate the state's rules and regulations.
The CBD laws are so squirrelly right now—how do you untangle something like that?
Well to be honest, it’s hard to untangle it. Businesses have to operate within … whatever's out there. And it's not necessarily just the laws and regulations businesses have to worry about. They have to also be wary of directives coming from the state—memos from federal agents and so on. So I don't really have a good answer for you. “Navigate” is what we're trying to do in that tangled mess of laws, and to keep our clients out of trouble.
Our firm is not necessarily an expert on CBD as much as we are on cannabis rules. However, we know other attorneys that are experts on CBD, both locally and nationally; namely Patricia Monaghan.
Does that only apply to dispensaries?
To our knowledge, CBD products cannot be carried or sold by licensed producers and dispensaries at this time.
Luckily, our firm has been able to create New Mexico’s first Cannabis Law Section though the state bar of New Mexico, and team up with a group of attorneys who have much more CBD and hemp expertise. The Cannabis Law Section is a group of at least 51 attorneys licensed here in the state of New Mexico that recognize that cannabis law is an emerging legal field, and we need to have someone to represent that particular industry. It's a collective of legal minds dealing with cannabis law issues.
Do you come across many personal problems with cannabis laws in your practice?
We do a lot of work with domestic violence and child custody cases. And it's unique in the fact that—I don't know if it's “unique” or “unfortunate” or both—but you will generally get different responses on cases from different jurisdictions as to whether or not it's okay to be a licensed cannabis user and still maintain child custody. Some courts are wholly against it, while others don't have a problem as long as you have a license and are following the laws and regulations and aren't being a danger to your kids.
So if you have a medical card, it could come up in a custody hearing?
Oh it will definitely come out. Now how it gets dealt with by the courts unfortunately varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction from our experience. We practice throughout the state so we get a good look at courts in different jurisdictions.
In contested custody situations, there’s always an argument about whether or not “this person uses cannabis or this person grows their own cannabis,” when in all reality, this person—this parent—has a valid license, has a personal production license and is well within their state laws and regulations. Courts in some jurisdictions may say “They’re within the law and that won't come into play.” Or a court could say, “This is a huge issue we're going to have to look at closely.”
And these are all state courts?
District courts. And it's not just judges. There's also hearing officers and domestic violence commissioners and family law hearing officers. It was one of the issues that my partner and I recognized as a problem.
What's something that could fix that?
I honestly think it's just education at this point. Get everybody educated on the topic of the state's cannabis program. I don't know if it's going to be going through changes here in the next election or not—I'm assuming it will—but whatever it ends up being, the courts need to be educated about it, as well as their staff, hearing officers and domestic violence commissioners.
We weren't necessarily dedicated to cannabis clients and cannabis industry in the beginning, but we started seeing it going to court and dealing with clients, so we decided to go ahead and enter this market and see if we can help out more than harm the system.