Firm prepares for legalization of marijuana in Michigan

CannaLex emphasizes the job creation and tax revenue aspects of the industry.

April 22, 2016
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Bob Hendricks, Ben Wrigley and Tom Hoffman, from left to right, plan to focus on business law as it pertains to marijuana. Courtesy Cannalex Lawyers and Counselors

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) As the movement to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes across the country hurtles forward, it seems inevitable that one day, the Mitten State will have to take on the issue.

If and when that day comes, hopeful entrepreneurs in West Michigan already will have resources available to them to help navigate the uncharted waters of the legalized marijuana business.

CannaLex Lawyers and Counselors, an offshoot of Wrigley, Hoffman & Hendricks, is one of those resources.

The seed for CannaLex was planted in 2014, when Wrigley, Hoffman & Hendricks partner Bob Hendricks heard a news story on the radio about Colorado, which recently had legalized marijuana for recreational use.

The story explained that growers and other entrepreneurs in the budding marijuana industry were having trouble obtaining banking services for their businesses because, while legal in Colorado, marijuana still was illegal at the federal level.

When it comes to legalized marijuana, either for recreational or medicinal purposes, the laws are hazy at best. Because cannabis currently is being legalized on a state-by-state basis, it still is possible to be prosecuted on the federal level. That is to say, medical marijuana in Michigan is legal in Michigan only to the extent the federal government is willing to tolerate it.

“If there was a fight between federal and local authorities over whether to prosecute, federal law would win that fight,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks, who has an extensive background in commercial, real estate, transactional and general business law, was intrigued. So he and partners Ben Wrigley and Tom Hoffman began to dig around in an effort to determine if there was a niche to be filled.

What they found is that a number of criminal defense attorneys had announced their intentions to expand to include legal marijuana expertise — a necessary step in the right direction. But there wasn’t much out there in terms of firms looking to serve the intersection of an industry with a focus on a product just recently legalized.

“We discovered a couple of firms nationally that had a very impressive online presence. They were blogging a lot about significant substantive legal issues overlapping in marijuana and business law,” Hendricks said. “But looking at business marijuana lawyers in Michigan, we didn’t see that there were lots of lawyers focusing exclusively on business law when it comes to marijuana.”

In Michigan, Hendricks said, the commercial aspects of the medical marijuana law are very narrow, so he and the team at CannaLex have to be patient. Meanwhile, they are writing and blogging to try and clear the air surrounding the laws while waiting for any potential legislation or ballot initiatives to come up that can expand the scope of commercial activity surrounding marijuana.

Those changes could be coming up soon. MILegalize, an initiative campaign for the legalization of cannabis in Michigan, is working hard to get legalized marijuana on the statewide ballot this November.

Hendricks also noted a number of reputable polling organizations are reporting an increase in support for legalized marijuana — and while he acknowledges the relationship between public opinion and the law is not a perfect correlation, by reading the tea leaves it appears change is on the way.

He noted that, while legalization in Colorado is not without its challenges — citing the difficulties in DUI laws, age restrictions and finding a balance in the standards between alcohol and marijuana — the experiment has been largely successful, especially in job creation and generating tax revenue.

“I think there’s a lot of people interested in what’s happening with legal marijuana, and many agree that prohibition hasn’t worked,” Hendricks said.

“There’s plenty of room in this upcoming marketplace for lots of good lawyers to be good lawyers, and we want to be part of it.”

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