Court: Nevada lawyers can give advice on medical marijuana

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court on Wednesday amended the state rules of professional conduct for lawyers to allow them to counsel clients on the state’s medical marijuana laws.

The new comment, added unanimously by the six members of the court who heard the request for guidance from the Nevada State Bar, says “a lawyer may counsel a client regarding the validity, scope and meaning of Nevada constitution Article 4, Section 38” which addresses the voter approved medical marijuana law.

The comment also says a lawyer “may assist a client in conduct the lawyer reasonable believes is permitted by these constitutional provisions and statutes, including regulations, orders, and other state or local provision implementing them. In these circumstances, the lawyer shall also advise the client regarding related federal law and policy.”

Medical marijuana dispensaries were authorized by the 2013 Legislature. Counties and cities around the state are considering whether to allow them to operate within their jurisdictions, and elected local officials have asked their lawyers for advice on everything from zoning to business licensing.

But in October 2013, Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic said he had reservations about providing legal advice to the City Council as it tried to decide whether to allow 10 medical pot dispensaries. As a result, he recused himself from such duty in January, setting the stage for the State Bar’s requested amendment.

The State Bar of Nevada asked the court on Tuesday for guidance, and the court had indicated it might take some time on the issue despite requests for speedy action. Wednesday’s unexpected ruling is effective immediately.

“The bar is gratified by the court’s appreciation of the urgency,” Alan Lefebvre, president of the State Bar, said in an email. “Our public officials will welcome the assistance of their highly competent and ethical public lawyers.”

The State Bar on Tuesday had asked justices to adopt a rule to shield attorneys from losing their law licenses if they counsel somebody who wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary in violation of federal law. The rule would also protect attorneys who advise cities and counties on the issue.

Rather than a formal rule change, the court issued a “supplemental comment” to the rules.

At the public hearing on the proposed rule change, Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin spoke in support, saying he has been without legal guidance on the medical marijuana issue for the past six months because of concerns raised by the city attorney.

After the court order, Coffin said: “I’m relieved because I’m starved for counsel on this.”

Jerbic said the court order “satisfies the concerns of all the local attorneys who joined in asking the question.”

State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, an attorney and the author of the medical marijuana law, said the language is “perfect” and will resolve the issue, at least for now.

“It gets us out of the gray area where we’ve been operating,” he said.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.