Disciplinary Board Suggests Changes to PA Rule of Professional Conduct

The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is considering recommending to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that it amend the Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct (PA RPC) regarding the ethics of providing legal counsel for businesses in the newly-legalized medical marijuana industry. The proposed changes would allow attorneys to ethically represent businesses in the marijuana industry without fear of disciplinary action, despite the fact that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

As it stands, the current wording in PA RPC 1.2(d) states that a lawyer may not counsel or engage a client regarding conduct the lawyer knows to be illegal. Upon review of this rule in light of recent changes to marijuana laws, the Disciplinary Board has found this to be unfair. According to a statement released by the Disciplinary Board, “It is apparent that once a jurisdiction makes the policy decision to authorize some form of marijuana-related activity, those who choose to engage in such activity are better served if the legal profession is able to advise clients engaged in such activities without fear of professional discipline.”

While some states with decriminalized marijuana laws have simply added comments to their existing ethics rules, the Disciplinary Board suggests that Pennsylvania adopt a formal amendment to Rule 1.2(d). The proposed amendment would include the phrase “except as stated in paragraph (e)” to the section, with newly proposed paragraph 1.2(e) stating that “A lawyer may counsel or assist a client regarding conduct expressly permitted by the law of the state where it takes place or has its predominant effect, provided that the lawyer counsels the client about the legal consequences, under other applicable law, of the client's proposed course of conduct.”

The proposed rule is currently available for public comment and is set to be voted on at the board’s next meeting in July. If adopted, the rule will be sent to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for consideration. Attorney Andrew Sacks of Sacks Weston was one of the main attorneys leading the charge in pursuit of these changes, having originally sought an advisory opinion from the Philadelphia Bar Association on the subject. Upon considering Attorney Sacks’ inquiry, both the Philadelphia Bar and the Pennsylvania Bar recommended the rules be changed to protect lawyers involved with clients in the marijuana industry.

Attorney Sacks commented on the proposed changes, stating that while the amendment would help, attorneys will not be entirely safe until marijuana is decriminalized on a federal level. According to Sacks, “Lawyers will always have the ax over our heads until the federal government changes marijuana's schedule.” Until then, these changes would at least help eliminate some of the ethical ambiguity and provide a minimal level of protection.

Medical Marijuana Lawyer in Pennsylvania

Sacks Weston provides premier-quality legal counsel for companies who wish to enter the medical marijuana industry. If you have any questions about Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana laws or are interested in taking advantage of these new laws, we urge you to schedule a confidential consultation or call our office today at (215) 764-3008.