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Bar puts emphasis on marijuana

Michigan has the potential to lead the country in marijuana-related law.

August 28, 2015
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Pot plants
The burgeoning marijuana industry is drawing the attention of the State Bar of Michigan, which hopes to make the state among the leaders in marijuana-related law. ©

A group of more than 50 attorneys with a stake in marijuana-related law will meet for the first time in October as a formal section of the State Bar of Michigan.

In July, the State Bar of Michigan voted to create the Marijuana Section, which will focus on clarifying existing medical marijuana law as well as preparing for the potential passage of a recreational marijuana law in the state.

Michigan is the first state in the country to have a Marijuana Section within its state bar association.

Bernard Jocuns, chair of the Marijuana Section of the State Bar of Michigan and attorney with Bernard Jocuns & Associates, located in Lapeer, said there are numerous areas of the law that are currently impacted by Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act of 2008, and even more that will be impacted if one of the marijuana ballot initiatives currently collecting signatures for the 2016 ballot is passed.

“It is time to get together a formal network and open communication with attorneys of Michigan that will be impacted by marijuana law,” said Jocuns.

“It’s not just criminal law. It also affects first-party cases, third-party auto accident cases, workers’ compensation, family law, juvenile matters, agricultural business and even bankruptcy cases,” he added.

He noted since the Medical Marijuana Act was passed in 2008, there have been nine related cases that have traveled to the Michigan Supreme Court.

“We are still trying to figure these things out,” he said.

In order to receive formal recognition as a section of the State Bar of Michigan, Jocuns said the section needed at least 50 attorneys to sign on to create a statement of necessity, bylaws and a two-year operational budget.

In October, when the section meets for the first time during the State Bar of Michigan’s annual conference, which is being held Oct. 7-9 in Novi, Jocuns said the group will elect a board and officers.

He said the section would then work on clarifying the ambiguities that currently exist in the state’s medical marijuana law and also begin considering how future laws might be crafted to allow for recreational use.

“It’s not a matter of if there is going to be recreational marijuana in the state of Michigan; it’s a matter of when — and we need to adequately prepare for that,” he said.

“Attorneys need to be organized and kept up to date, and we need to open the lines of communication. Hopefully, there can be some influence into what some of our legislation could and should be — how a lot of these cases are going to be handled.”

He said in a year or two he hopes the section will be able to provide direction and an actual plan to deal with any potential new laws and referendums that are going to come down throughout the United States and particularly in Michigan.

Education is another important role of the Marijuana Section, Jocuns said.

“We need to educate other attorneys and, in particular, judges and prosecutors. Many have been understandable and open to this law, but also there are a lot that aren’t supportive,” he said.

Jocuns said by having a Marijuana Section, the state bar is legitimizing the industry, and Michigan has the potential to lead the country in marijuana-related law.

“Colorado has a committee, and ours is a full-blown section,” he said. “We want to set the standard for the United States and show we have a proactive group of attorneys who are knowledgeable and motivated and really want to tackle these issues in a positive way.”

Colorado is currently the marijuana law leader as it navigates legal issues related to newly passed recreational use throughout the state.

Jocuns noted the state is working out tax return issues and trying to set up a credit union to serve the burgeoning industry, as well as looking at issues of employment as it relates to marijuana use.

“Colorado is knocking some of that stuff off in terms of recreational use and employees,” he said.

Jocuns believes marijuana could have a positive role in Michigan’s future economy.

“Hemp is being acknowledged as a potential cash crop and other states are cultivating and harvesting it,” he said.

“Michigan could be on the forefront. There is a great botany program at Michigan State University. We have all the tech and talent here to prepare for the future and do something positive with it outside of the stereotypes.”

Jocuns said attorneys interested in joining the Marijuana Section are encouraged to do so and should indicate that desire when renewing their State Bar membership.

“We welcome all attorneys from every area of practice, and it includes prosecuting attorneys,” he said. “It’s a diverse bunch — different backgrounds, cultural upbringings, ethnicities, men and women.”

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