Dawn is an attorney and cannabis advocate. She worked as a prosecutor for 12 years, first at the City Prosecutor's Office and then for six years in the DA's office. During this time, her mindset started changing about marijuana as she became aware of its positive aspects and the complexities surrounding it.
After she left the DA's office, she found a certificate program about cannabis legislation at McGeorge School of Law in San Francisco, California. California has been a trailblazer as regards cannabis case law. She started taking these online classes that covered several different areas, including its history and how it progressed from being an herb that was accepted by society to one that was prohibited. The course also included banking, business, constitutional issues, property issues, and marketing in relation to cannabis.
The more Dawn dove into the ethics surrounding the cannabis industry, the more she realized that people need help with it, particularly legal help (although there are some states that prohibit lawyers from doing so).
Although Utah has not stated a specific legal opinion on representation for the cannabis industry, Dawn feels that the Utah Bar Association would take a pro opinion on the matter, as the Utah Bar actually does have a cannabis law section with 10 or 11 attorneys on a regular basis. In fact, Dawn believes that cannabis law is becoming more mainstream in the legal world, with greater general acceptance that people in the cannabis industry should be entitled to legal counsel, just like those in other industries or fields of business.
Dawn’s legal cannabis certification entailed about six months and more than 200 hours of instruction. It involved watching videos, reading, and studying case law [mostly from California, but also other states] to see how the law is enacted in different states, which can differ greatly across the country.
Her law school is really good about updating people on impending changes in legislation. There are research services that allow attorneys to set an alert to be notified whenever legal changes affecting the marijuana industry are enacted. There are also several websites now dedicated to mapping out the relevant laws in the different states.
One book about marijuana law, written by one of the professors at McGeorge School of Law, may be particularly helpful.
She started Utah Cannabis Advocates, which is particularly geared towards helping cannabis businesses and growers to negotiate the daunting complexities of cannabis law, as regards regulations, contracts, commercial contracts, and leases.
She doesn’t do a lot of criminal law, but will take on those cases as well if she feels they present some unique challenges that can have an impact. She points out that there are several excellent defense lawyers in Utah to help legal cannabis patients who are still, bizarrely, experiencing legal harassment.
Dawn admits that when she was a prosecutor, she did lump cannabis in with all the other drugs. However, as she was more exposed to it, she started realizing that it does have a purpose and true value. Taking legal classes reinforced this thinking, and helped her realize that medical cannabis, in the form of Marinol, has actually been on the market a long time.
Dawn realized that more research was needed to deschedule cannabis, which can happen in two ways. The Department of Human Health and Services have to be convinced that cannabis has value and a medicinal purpose, and the legislature has to vote to change its legal status. It is upsetting, however, that the government does not allow sufficient research to be done to provide empirical proof that can achieve these objectives.
Can this situation be overcome?
Dawn thinks it's very promising that five states, including South Dakota, New Jersey, Montana, and Arizona, legalized cannabis seemingly overnight. This may contribute greatly towards changing the mindset of other states, as there are now Senators and Representatives who view cannabis as something that has value, medicinally. This should create a positive effect on legislation, particularly with an ever-increasing amount of data being collected over time.
She feels that interstate commerce will inevitably start having an impact as well. Banking issues and issues of security (current banking regulations are in effect that force cannabis-related businesses to work on a cash basis) are also going to force legislators to pass more sensible legislation. Smaller banks and credit unions, those that are not federally insured, are already starting to provide banking services to these cannabis-related businesses.
One thing that could help overcome this banking problem is if cannabis businesses got together and started their own bank. Dawn feels that as the cannabis industry matures and practical issues are sorted out, this will become a much more realistic option. Dawn does not think that decriminalization of cannabis would help the banking situation at this stage, as banks’ federal insurance is the real issue currently.
Dawn thinks that it will, because the checks and balances and quality control that regulation brings to controlled substances make people feel safer. This would definitely apply to cannabis which can have negative effects, like any drug, if not used properly.
Dawn believes that sticking to our current track will do wonders for medical providers who want to be viewed as properly licensed providers of cannabis products. Using current seed-to-sale procedures, monitoring, following regulations, and showing people that the medical cannabis industry is safe and being conducted responsibly, will contribute to this goal.
Education and providing people the facts to make their own informed decisions are crucial to breaking down entrenched and outdated mindsets that assume marijuana is ‘bad’. Fortunately, younger people are growing up with a different mindset that accepts that Medical Cannabis has a legitimate purpose, much like prescription drugs.
Unfortunately, just as it happens with prescription drugs like opioids, there will be people who abuse Medical Marijuana. Again, education is the key, and with people generally being more informed about healthy choices these days, the outlook is more positive.
Dawn has a personal mantra - educate, elevate, and advocate. Educating her clients is important for building protection into their commercial contracts. By elevate, Dawn means not only convincing someone that they are capable of running a successful cannabis business, but also being there if those owners run into legal issues in the future. She also hopes to advocate by lobbying Congressmen and Senators about upcoming issues, allowing them to address Medical Cannabis issues for their constituencies.
The fact that cannabis businesses do not have access to proper banking services is a huge issue that should be addressed immediately. Dawn is also strongly against cannabis businesses not being allowed to file for bankruptcy. Likewise, the taxation that they are subject to is unfair as they are heavily taxed and yet do not qualify for any tax deductions (eg. running costs) like other businesses do.
Dawn thinks that part of the solution might lie in descheduling and allowing individual states to make their own, better regulations that are applicable to their specific regions and jurisdictions.
But there is still a massive amount of pioneering work to be done around educating more attorneys, police officers, prosecutors and judges about the benefits of Medical Marijuana. In fact, it almost amounts to deprogramming them from their previous mindsets. Research and ensuring everyone follows the rules is crucial, as decriminalization and legalization (which are not the same thing and major topics on their own), can play huge roles.
People don’t realize that the cannabis industry has a lot to offer in terms of jobs and opportunities. The labor-intensive nature of the multi-million dollar cannabis industry means that many businesses will need to continue hiring new workers, which in turn gives work to a greater number of citizens. Groundbreaking research work is happening as well, with new strains being discovered and new patents being registered all the time (including developments in the growing, transportation, manufacturing and extraction processes).
Dawn has an office in South Jordan, but drives all over. You can contact her through her Facebook page, Utah Cannabis Advocates, or her instagram page @utgreenadvocates. She can also be reached by phone at (801) 750-8320. Her kids suggested that she has a marijuana hotline, so hopefully that will be coming soon!
Dawn stresses to business owners the need to be proactive. You need to have a good business plan, find out where the pitfalls are, and seek legal counsel early to abide by all the regulations. Seek out ways to market your business and establish marketing relationships by attending events, approaching people, and asking lots of questions!
Tim is at utahmarijauna.org. A new video about the science of cannabis and how it helps people medically is out now on the Discover Marijuana Youtube channel, with Tim and Blake. Chris can be found on IAmSaltLake.com.