State Sanctioned Marijuana Use May Lead to Attorney Sanctions

In its recent Advisory Opinion 14-02, the State Bar Association of North Dakota Ethics Committee opined that a lawyer licensed in North Dakota who uses medical marijuana in a state that authorizes its use, violates North Dakota Rule of Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(b). The Rule provides that “[i]t is professional misconduct for a lawyer to…commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects[.]” Therefore, “[a] North Dakota lawyer who moves to Minnesota to participate in a medical marijuana treatment program that complies with Minnesota law violates Rule 8.4(b).”

A key determination in the Committee’s opinion is the fact that the federal government has the authority to prohibit marijuana use despite state laws authorizing its use for medical purposes. Therefore, an attorney who purchases, possesses or ingests marijuana in Minnesota where it is legal would nevertheless be in violation of federal law every time. The Committee construes this behavior as a “pattern of repeated offenses” that indicates the attorney’s indifference to legal obligations, and constitutes a violation of Rule 8.4(b).

Consequently, lawyers who live and use medical marijuana in a state authorizing medical marijuana use must be cognizant that they may be violating the Rules of Professional Conduct in a state that prohibits marijuana use.

For the full text of the Opinion, click here. To read more, click here.

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