Tips For Hiring a Cannabis Lawyer and Planner

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This month, Pacific Environmental Analytics, LLC has asked Amy Steinfeld, co-chair of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s cannabis and industrial hemp industry group and land use and water attorney, and Rebecca Tucker, Director of Business Development with Brownstein in California, to outline some tips and key factors in hiring a cannabis team.

Hiring a talented lawyer and land use team to navigate the acquisition, development or entitlement of a property or business is critical. But for the cannabis industry, the stakes are even higher. Attraction to a legal team is often based on intuition—will they have your best interests in mind? Will they be generous with their time but sensitive to costs, and strategic in allocating resources? Are they friendly and do they connect and build rapport with others? Other factors are less subjective, including their industry experience and understanding of the local jurisdiction.

Here are four key factors to look for in a cannabis team:

1) They have the right team and know how to deploy it

Most cannabis projects (cultivation, manufacturing, retail) include some level of land use investigation. Hiring an attorney with an in-house land use team or strong relationships with outside planners will not only increase your likelihood of success, but ensure success comes efficiently. A land use planner is multidisciplinary, skilled in planning and regulation, permitting and entitlements, and environmental review. Planning is extremely localized and unique to the specific jurisdiction. Beyond coordination with an attorney, planners also act as the bridge between multiple stakeholders including the client, public agency staff, decision makers, consultants and the broader public. An attorney and planner who work well together, means the planner’s work product can be efficiently integrated with your attorney’s, reducing costs.

2) Deep understanding of state and local permitting/licensing requirements

Your team must understand and regularly track shifting local and state cannabis regulations. Be wary of an overconfident team as cannabis projects take time, dedication and resources. A solid team should be able to quickly identify potential issues or fatal flaws, and outline opportunities, constraints and risks. Planners and attorneys are trained to perform detailed project analysis based on their understanding of local and state cannabis regulations and interrelated land use laws, and to provide concrete recommendations and findings. A good planner and attorney must also have a sophisticated understanding of the development entitlement process including key triggers, opportunities to streamline the process and knowing when extra caution is warranted.

3) Broad industry connections

The secret sauce of an effective team is their ability to combine practical know-how with the softer sciences of political climate, where and how the political winds may be shifting, and public relations. They must understand how to effectively advocate for a client’s project before diverse audiences including government staff, decision makers and interested community members. Anyone who has been through the permitting process knows that what’s permissible is not always clear, and outcomes can vary drastically based on the approach and handling of the project. Understanding the concerns and interests of key stakeholders and decision makers will aid in developing a successful project. An experienced cannabis team can also connect you to trustworthy consultants, CPAs, lobbyists, friendly banks and potential buyers, saving you time and money as you navigate this nascent industry.

4) Passion for the plant

Finally, it’s clear that a professional who derives genuine joy and interest in the cannabis industry will put more care and attention into your project. The industry is still suffering from decades of prohibition and campaigns that spread misinformation and fear. Thus, cannabis projects can be contentious. Hiring a team that is passionate about the plant and finds meaning in their client’s successes is the easiest way to sustain motivation through an often daunting process.