CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Supreme Court justices said Tuesday they won't rush into approving rules allowing attorneys to advise clients on medical marijuana issues without fear of running afoul of professional conduct standards.
Justices during a 90-minute hearing raised concerns that blanket approval of a rule amendment proposed by the Nevada State Bar could have consequences beyond the immediate intent of easing the minds of lawyers who feel constrained to provide legal advice to local governments and clients hoping to get into the medical marijuana business.
The court took the matter under submission and signaled it may issue interim guidance before making a final determination on the rule amendment.
Medical marijuana is legal in Nevada and the process is underway to license dispensaries, cultivation operations and kitchens to make edible pot products. But marijuana is still illegal under federal law, which causes a dilemma for attorneys.
A professional rule of conduct forbids lawyers from advising a client to break the law. Lawyers are seeking a rule change permitting them to counsel medical marijuana clients and public agencies without fear of facing possible disciplinary action.
Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin and public agency lawyers said some local governments are drafting ordinances to comply with the new state medical marijuana regulations without the benefit of input from legal staff, or are hiring out of state lawyers to advise them.
"I hope you will approve or modify this, that I may have legal counsel as a representative of the public," Coffin told the court.
The state bar proposed language stating that a lawyer won't be in violation of professional conduct rules for engaging in conduct or advising a client on activities specifically permitted under state law "solely because that same conduct, standing alone, may violate federal law."
But justices said that may be too broad.
"I think we can resolve this but we need some time," Justice Michael Cherry said.
Nevada voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, but patients had no way to legally obtain it besides growing it. A law passed by the 2013 Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval changed that, setting up a taxing and regulatory structure for cultivation, processing and distribution of medicinal pot.
It has also spurred a rush for limited numbers of licenses and a demand for new legal services.
Clark County, Nevada's largest, received more than 200 permit applications for medicinal marijuana establishments. Other local government jurisdictions in Nevada are still reviewing or conducting their own licensing processes.
Across the country, 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, while two states — Colorado and Washington — have legalized recreational use of pot.
State Sen. Tick Segerblom, the main sponsor of the law setting up Nevada's medical marijuana industry, also urged the court to act swiftly.
"The horse is out of the barn. This thing has taken off," said Segerblom, a Las Vegas Democrat.
"I appreciate the desire to go slow. But please, go."