The New Jersey State Bar Association (“NJSBA”) has established an ad hoc committee to review the ethical issues raised under New Jersey Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(d) (which prohibits a lawyer from counseling or assisting a client in conduct that the lawyer knows is illegal or criminal)  for an attorney representing a client in connection with the sale, distribution, or use of medical marijuana.  Duane Morris partner James J. “J.”Ferrelli, a past NJSBA Trustee, will serve as chair. 

The ethical issues raised under RPC 1.2(d) arise from the fact that the sale, distribution, and/or use of marijuana is illegal under federal law, but is lawful pursuant to the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.  New Jersey’s law allows patients with one of 11 designated conditions to receive marijuana with the approval of a doctor registered with the program, and provides for the establishment of at least six alternative treatment centers, which are required to both grow and dispense marijuana.  A concise overview of the New Jersey law may be found by clicking here.

Under the current RPC 1.2(d), New Jersey attorneys seeking to counsel or assist clients in complying with New Jersey law relating to medical marijuana risk sanctions for violation of RPC 1.2(d) because such conduct is illegal and criminal under federal law. Thus, RPC 1.2(d), as it currently stands, is an impediment to the practice of law and the provision of legal counseling and assistance to clients seeking to comply with applicable New Jersey law pertaining to medical marijuana.  This ethical quandary facing New Jersey lawyers has been the subject of recent attention in the media.

The NJSBA committee will review the issues as they pertain to New Jersey lawyers representing clients seeking to comply with New Jersey law relating to medical marijuana, will review how other states have addressed these issues under their respective Rules of Professional Conduct, and will make recommendations to the NJSBA Executive Committee and Board of Trustees for appropriate revisions to the New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct, to be presented to the Supreme Court of New Jersey, so that New Jersey attorneys may counsel and assist clients in complying with applicable law relating to medical marijuana, without the potential for ethical sanctions.