Lawyers afraid to defend N.J. medical marijuana dispensary –

TRENTON — The co-founder of the medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township will appear in court Wednesday to dispute claims he blocked his employees’ attempts to join a union in a case that is being watched across the nation.And this isn’t even David Knowlton’s biggest problem.Knowlton, board chairman of the nonprofit Compassionate Care Foundation dispensary, is not a lawyer, and he can’t find one to represent him before the National Labor Relations Board. State law created a medicinal marijuana program, but to the federal government, growing and possessing marijuana remain illegal activities. Rules of professional conduct say attorneys cannot advise or assist their clients engage in “conduct a lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.”The law firm of Ballard Spahr of Philadelphia offered to represent the financially struggling dispensary for free but later withdrew the offer out of concern its attorneys could face ethics charges and put their licenses at risk, Knowlton said.”It’s a difficult position to be in,” said Knowlton, who is also CEO for a health policy think tank, the Health Care Quality Institute of New Jersey. “I am used to being in a world where everyone knows what the rules are — you have a right to counsel, a hearing and due process — and it is being cast aside because the state and the feds can’t agree.”The quandary is just the latest legal landmine people in the medicinal marijuana industry face in the netherworld between state and federal law, where it’s nearly impossible to obtain a simple bank loan.The case pitting the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the dispensary promises to test the murky limits of both state and federal laws in ways that would set a precedent, according to legal experts.The union issueUnited Food and Commercial Workers has organized cannabis industry workers in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Oregon.The union has created a campaign called Cannabis Workers Rising “to bring more professionalism and stability to this emerging sector of the healthcare industry,” according to the campaign’s website.But the National Labor Relations Board, an independent agency responsible for protecting employees’ rights investigating unfair labor practices, has never intervened in a case involving the legal marijuana industry’s right to organize, said Mark E. Belland, attorney for the union local 152. This case would be the first, he said.Medical marijuana laws have passed …Read More

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