November 2013 Bar Bulletin
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November 2013 Bar Bulletin

KCBA Adopts Ethics Advisory Opinion on I-502


Given unresolved attorney ethics questions after Washington voters approved Initiative 502 last November, the King County Bar Association proposed on October 4 that the Washington Supreme Court consider amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct. While that RPC proposal is under consideration by the Court, the KCBA Board of Trustees has adopted an ethics advisory opinion to assist the bar as attorneys consider practice issues involved in representing clients and making personal choices in the context of the legalization of marijuana in Washington and the existing RPCs.

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Questions presented:

1. Should an attorney who assists clients to engage in conduct that is permitted by I-502 and its implementing regulations, but is forbidden by federal law, be subjected to professional discipline in Washington?

2. Should an attorney who has an ownership interest in or is employed by a marijuana dispensary and/or occasionally possesses marijuana, both in a manner expressly permitted by I-502 but forbidden by federal law, be subjected to professional discipline in Washington?

Background and Hypothetical Facts

On November 6, 2012, Washington voters approved Initiative 502 ("I-502") by a margin of 55.7% to 44.3%.1 When undertaken in proper compliance with Washington law, the manufacture of marijuana, sale of marijuana, and possession of marijuana in certain amounts by adults is no longer criminalized by state law.2 Colorado passed a similar law in its November 2012 general election.3

I-502 required the state liquor control board to adopt rules regarding the procedures and criteria necessary to implement several goals of the new initiative.4 By law, the liquor control board must do so by December 1, 2013, and the agency's most recent update says that it is on track to implement the regulations by that date.5 [Please see article on page 14.]

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