Green Light Law Group: Providing Expert Legal Advice to Cannabusinesses and Ganjapreneurs
Across the United States, people are making great strides in decriminalizing cannabis and helping pass legislature for the legalization of both recreational and medical marijuana.
This progress has lead to the inception of new businesses geared toward helping individuals and companies in the industry operate within the confines of state and federal laws.
One such business is Green Light Law Group (GLLG), a successful cannabusiness law firm based out of Portland with over thirty years combined experience in Oregon’s cannabis industry.
Emily Burns works alongside GLLG founders Perry Salzhauer and Brad Blommer to help clients navigate this new and exciting legal landscape. Emily first became interested in a legal career in cannabis while enrolled at Vanderbilt Law School. While attending, she had the opportunity to take a class on Marijuana Policy and Law. It was one of the first of its kind and taught by leading marijuana and policy scholar Professor Robert Mikos.
Emily’s worked with individuals and entities in both the private and public sectors which include financial institutions, state regulatory agencies and federal policy makers. She’s done extensive research and written on a great deal of subjects from intellectual property rights in the cannabis industry to First Amendment ramifications of advertising and marketing restrictions.
Recently, Emily took a few moments to answer some questions for Viride about legislation, offer advice on industry networking and shed some insight on what she does to help cannabusinesses grow.
Viride: Before the Marijuana Law and Policy course was introduced at your institution, had you considered a legal career in the cannabis industry?
Emily A. Burns: Never in my wildest dreams! I was skeptical of legalization prior to enrolling in the course, and I made a conscious effort to remain impartial throughout the course itself, as I did not want my personal experience with marijuana to dictate my analysis of marijuana law and policy issues. While I embraced the opportunity to learn about marijuana law and policy in an academic environment, I had no idea that the course would lead me to pursue a career in the industry. It helps that I was initially skeptical of the industry because I can advocate for marijuana policy reform with passion and conviction, as my support for legalization is rooted in truth, not opinion.
V: How did you get involved in Women Grow?
EB: I learned about Women Grow after reading a Newsweek article featuring Jane West, the founder of the organization. As the graduate of an all-girls school, I was excited to hear there was already an organization devoted to supporting and empowering women in the cannabis industry. When I moved back to Baltimore after law school, I attended one of their signature networking events, and I had a great time connecting with women involved in various aspects of the industry.
V: Is this an organization you'd recommend to any woman wishing to become a cannabis entrepreneur?
EB: I will say that there are more budget-friendly ways to connect with women in the industry, so that is something everyone needs to consider when deciding whether to invest in a membership. If you are completely new to the industry, it makes sense to attend a signature networking event in your area, if possible. But if not, there are many other organizations offering comparable networking opportunities for budding ganjapreneurs.
V: Are there other cannabis business associations you recommend?
EB: The Baltimore chapter recently decided to break off from the national Women Grow organization, so the new organization, Spark! hosts monthly networking events for individuals interested in getting involved in Maryland’s nascent medical cannabis industry. As far as other organizations, I think it’s a very personal decision as far as whether or not you want to get involved, but I would suggest looking into the National Cannabis Industry Association, which has chapter locations throughout the country, and the NCIA website also lists several professional organizations for individuals working in, or interested in working in, the cannabis industry.
V: Tell us about your work with Green Light Law Group.
EB: My work is incredibly diverse, which is why I love it! We are a full-service cannabusiness law firm, so we work with established and prospective marijuana business establishments, as well as individuals and entities providing ancillary services to the cannabis industry. I’ve done everything from drafting a legal disclaimer for CBD products, to preparing written testimony for a local land use hearing on behalf of a client seeking a marijuana processor license, to advising a client on the federal and state laws governing cross-border securities investments in marijuana-related businesses. I am also responsible for writing the law firm blog posts and monthly client newsletter, so I am constantly scanning the news for important industry updates, as we like to get this information out to our clients as soon as possible! In addition to traditional legal work, I also work on miscellaneous projects, like tracking the progress of marijuana-related legislation in Oregon, reviewing a CLE presentation on the ethical implications of marijuana lawyering, and responding to media requests.
V: If legally permitted, can you discuss some of the federal reform you've been involved in?
EB: I am sworn to secrecy, so I can’t discuss the extent of my involvement. However, I will say that lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are committed to reforming federal marijuana policy.
V: You have an extensive background in law, particularly cannabis and you are very passionate about issues in the cannabis industry. Do you think you'll use your knowledge to teach cannabis classes in the future?
EB: Thank you for the kind words! The opportunity to teach future generations of law students about marijuana law and policy would be a dream come true for me, so I would definitely love to teach a cannabis class someday! However, this type of teaching opportunity is extremely rare, so as much as I would love to teach a cannabis class, it really depends on whether a teaching opportunity is available to me in the future.
V: Currently, only medical marijuana is legal in Maryland. Because of your involvement in state and federal laws involving cannabis, do you think Maryland will soon legalize recreational use as well?
EB: No, Maryland is not even close to legalizing recreational marijuana, despite frequent media reports to the contrary. Maryland faces a unique challenge because unlike recreational marijuana states, Maryland doesn’t allow state ballot initiatives by referendum. This means voters cannot approve or reject a state ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana unless the state legislature passes legislation allowing for a state ballot initiative on the issue. This past legislative session, lawmakers introduced legislation that would allow Maryland to decide whether to approve or reject a constitutional amendment that would give citizens the right to use and possess marijuana for recreational purposes. The bill attracted attention from voters and the media, but failed to gain any traction among lawmakers, as the legislature was already preoccupied with a number of bills related to the state’s medical cannabis program.
V: So, patients still don’t have access?
EB: Even though Maryland’s medical cannabis program was signed into law in 2014, patients still don’t have access to medical cannabis because the program has been plagued by scandal, corruption, and repeated delays. The legislature considered a number of different medical cannabis-related bills this year, but state lawmakers ultimately failed to pass a single piece of legislation in the end. It was an embarrassment for state lawmakers because even though the House and Senate voted to pass one medical cannabis program reform bill, the Senate didn’t finish the final vote until after midnight on the last day of the legislature, so it ended up failing. Lawmakers then called for a special legislative session to address the issues within the medical cannabis program, but it didn’t happen. I think Maryland lawmakers are extremely hesitant to take on recreational marijuana legalization in light of the numerous problems with the medical cannabis program.
V: What politicians are working the hardest to get cannabis legalized federally?
EB: Dana Rohrabacher, Kirsten Gillibrand, Corey Booker, Jeff Merkeley, Corey Gardner, and every member of the Cannabis Congressional Caucus.
V: What’s the most effective way for citizens to get involved in the political process?
EB: I hear time and time again from federal lawmakers who believe that their own constituents are not on board with marijuana policy reform, despite numerous polls demonstrating record-high voter support for legalization. The disconnect between voters and federal policymakers has stymied progress at the federal level, so it is important to reach out to your state’s elected officials in Congress and urge them to support marijuana legislative reforms. It’s also important to change existing social and political norms related to marijuana use, so if you feel comfortable “coming out of the cannabis closet,” then you should talk with friends, family members, neighbors, and relatives about the importance of reforming federal marijuana policy. Large-scale policy changes reflect underlying changes in cultural norms, so even though casual conversations about your own marijuana use may seem inconsequential, these conversations actually play a critical role in terms of effectuating change at the federal level.
V: Where do you see the cannabis industry in 10 years?
EB: We are very close to ending federal marijuana prohibition, so I think the industry will continue to experience exponential growth and transformation over the next ten years or so. Federal prohibition has stifled the industry in many ways, but the ban on interstate sales of marijuana products is arguably the most significant limitation on the current industry, as it prevents cannabis companies and the industry as a whole from achieving economies of scale. When cannabis becomes legal under federal law, cannabusinesses will start manufacturing and distributing marijuana products throughout the United States, so instead of one cannabis industry, we will have a number of different industries that involve cannabis. For example, an industry for pharmaceutical-grade medical cannabis products, natural supplement and botanical herb products, recreational marijuana, as well as separate industries for industrial hemp agricultural products. This will lead to further innovation and specialization within the industry as a whole, as each segment of the cannabis industry will be able to focus on refining their existing products to meet consumer demands, rather than spending tons of money on state-specific regulatory compliance requirements.
Emily is currently working on her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Maryland Law School where her focus is on public health policies related to legalization. Follow Emily on Twitter!