All California attorneys must follow the Rules of Professional Conduct.1 The Rules of Professional Conduct require attorneys to advise their clients to act lawfully, manage conflicts of interest, and protect attorney-client privilege. Cannabis lawyers must pay special attention to these ethical obligations for three reasons. First, although cannabis is legal in the State of California, it remains illegal under federal law. Accordingly, attorneys representing cannabis clients risk running afoul of federal law, even if they are acting in line with state law, and must advise clients not only to follow state law, but also to consider the consequences of violating federal law. Second, the conflict between state and federal law means cannabis lawyers face the risk of the crime-fraud exception vitiating attorney-client privilege. Third, cannabis is a rapidly-growing industry. This rapid growth in the industry results in two conflicts pitfalls for attorneys: one, the potential conflicts that arise when representing clients who wish to obtain cannabis licenses, and two, the allure of entering a business agreement with a client.
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