The law and marijuana, part 1

Why having a cannabis practice is no joke

Nev's Health Law

Neville M. Bilimoria

Neville M. Bilimoria is a partner in the health law practice group, in the Chicago office of Duane Morris.

October 2017

As a practicing health-care lawyer, I find the field of cannabis law or medical marijuana law legally and academically fascinating. Maybe it’s the law school nerd in me from my days at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, but like doctors with a complex medical case, the legal issues surrounding cannabis law are quite complex and interrelated.

Everyone knows that cannabis is still federally prohibited as a Schedule I Controlled Substance under the Controlled Substances Act; yet, in the face of this federal prohibition, 29 states have either legalized recreational marijuana or legalized medical marijuana and the number of states passing marijuana friendly laws is growing (no pun intended).

Speaking of puns, as a cannabis lawyer, I often get questions about my practice in the field. Full disclosure, I have never smoked marijuana or ingested it, yet unfortunately many in the cannabis field these days assume that prolific marijuana use spurs people like me to be involved in this industry. For me, I have no agenda to promote medical marijuana or legalize it for my own benefit. My crusade in representing medical marijuana and other marijuana businesses is not to get high and reap samples from my clients.

Rather, my motivation is quite simple: the advancement of the science of health care. After all, as a health lawyer over the years, I’ve learned not to discriminate against types of health-care providers.

Alternative medicine, medical spas, naprapathic medicine, acupuncture, etc., are all different means to a certain end: the promotion of better health care for patients. Who is anyone to say that these methods of alternative medicine should not be pursued or are better than another type of medicine? I’ve realized that each has its own place in our U.S. health-care system. Further, no discrimination is warranted against new types of medicine. Same goes for medical marijuana.

Recently, for example, studies in Great Britain have shown that migraines can be treated effectively through the use of medical marijuana. Another 2016 study published in Pharmacotherapy found that using medical marijuana decreased the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. For those who suffer from migraines, is it appropriate to limit the science of medical marijuana in the face of these benefits?

Gone are the days when medical marijuana was a joke. In California, for example, in the early days of its medical marijuana legalization, you could go to any neon-lighted store and get medical marijuana with a fake or a less-than-valid diagnosis by a physician. Gone, too, are the days when marijuana was seen mainly as an abused drug, fraught with the stain of the criminal underground with substance abuses abounding everywhere. Now, there are actually therapeutic reasons that doctors utilize marijuana for patients, and the number of ailments for which marijuana has been found to be effective by physicians is growing.

But unlike other health law issues, the issue with medical marijuana is not only one of conflicting federal and state laws, but one of law, science and politics. This makes this area of practice fascinating to me, and it is one area that is clearly on the rise with more and more companies and private equity firms investing in medical cannabis.

Part two of this column — running in December — will take a deeper dive into how exactly the law, science and politics interact.