See the Green

Making the practice of law in the cannabis industry more efficient - Christopher J. Davis

Photo for: Making the practice of law in the cannabis industry more efficient - Christopher J. Davis

27/05/2022 Christopher J. David on the formation of the International Cannabis Bar Association, The world’s leading resource for cannabis law, education and community

After graduating from George Washington University School of Law Christopher started working in NYC as a securities litigator and then an editor at a large nationally circulated legal publication in the Finance and Banking Regulatory practice groups. 2015 was a start for Davis when he started representing pro bono cases for small cultivators in Northern California. NCBA was formed in 2015 with an aim to ensure excellent, ethical, and advanced legal assistance for the cannabis industry where Davis became the first Executive Director of  NCBA. In 2019 NCBA transformed into INCBA, a formation which serves local, state, national, and international practices across the globe. INCBA connects lawyers and provides for attorneys serving the cannabis industry through its INCBA's in-person events, attorney activism projects, non-profit partnerships, and Pro Bono engagements.



Can you tell us about yourself and how you got into this industry?

I grew up in Berkeley, CA - so when I grew up, cannabis was a ubiquitous part of the fabric of my community. For better or worse, kids seem to rebel against the situation in which they grew up, so I ended up at UCLA as a Business/Economics major, planning on going into investment banking or some other type of high-level, high-pressure, business-focused career. Ohhh, to be young and rebellious. 

I took a law class my senior year, and realized that I like the law a whole lot more than I like economic theory, and ended up at GW Law in DC. After graduation, it was up to NYC for me, where I became a securities litigator before settling in as an editor in the Finance group of a national legal publication writing cliff notes for high finance lawyers. In the meantime, a group of lawyers, in 2015, had founded NCBA (the National Cannabis Bar Association), which I had the good luck to connect with, and began to volunteer some of my time to help host events, write articles, and otherwise help support the association. 

I had the opportunity to go remote full time in 2017 as a Finance Editor, so I moved back to the west coast. There, I reconnected with many old family and friends, many of whom were on the cusp of the transition from the historic cooperative regulatory model in California to a set of codified regulations. 

That old community began to ask me for help in transitioning businesses into the new, regulated market. But I was still a finance lawyer. So I helped out a few friends of friends on a pro bono basis, and connected with Lara DeCaro, one of the founders of NCBA, to help me make sure that I wasn't committing malpractice. And with her support and the support of a welcoming legal community, I never looked back. 

Why was INCBA formed?

The founders were operating in the cooperative model in california, and recognized that the industry needed and deserved top-tier legal representation. The founders came together to create a support network for lawyers that were representing this industry to discuss ethics issues for lawyers, how to approach these businesses, and best practices to make sure that the industry was built on solid legal footing. 

Christopher J. Davis

Image Source: INCBA

What is your role as the Executive Director at INCBA?

I manage all of INCBA's projects and education. We host over 60 hours of legal education per year and have the most robust library of CLE (continuing legal ed) programs for lawyers addressing cannabis law in the world. We also host multiple in-person events, including our Cannabis Law Institute, and we are involved running the legal tracks for multiple national cannabis conferneces. 

We also have a series of committees that engage the cannabis community and regulations in multiple different ways. Our ethics committee has been instrumental in reaching out to state bars and changing ethics requirements for lawyers that prohibited legal representation of businesses that were engaged in activities prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act. Our Amicus committee files briefs in support of cases and individuals that are actively engaged in litigation. Our Legislative Advisement committee files comments and offers advice to legislators and regulators that are implementing regulatory regimes. 

We also host networking events, we create a community where lawyers can seek professional advice, and we teach lawyers what they need to know to successfully represent clients in this industry.

What are the difficulties you have faced as a cannabis lawyer?

There are many. Federal prohibition. Stigma. Banking. Clients fundamentally adverse to papering deals or keeping records. Ever-changing regulatory environment. Fractured policy positions from within the industry. Intense competition. Along with the normal difficulties of being a lawyer. 

The running joke is that traditional lawyers used to look at this industry and say "You guys must have it easy, working for a bunch of stoners." On the contrary, the lawyers here need to be experts in the underlying area of law - IP, securities, real estate, etc. - and experts in cannabis regulation at the municipal, state and federal level. This complex and highly-regulated industry requires expertise beyond what is required for most traditional industrie. 

What are your views on the legalisation of cannabis?

Do I want it? Yes. Will it happen soon? Not in the next two years. 

Are their risks? Yes - huge amounts of deployed capital will be displaced, and social equity requires real problem solving, regulation of novel cannabinoids, protection of small market participants, and the fundamental framework of hemp versus "marijuana" all needs to be reexamined. This will not be an easy task. 

What is the root cause of the problems faced by the industry and what measures can be followed to eliminate them?

Too many fractured interests to get on the same page. Social equity versus MSOs. Highly competitive licensing versus open. We really all need to get on the same page about how we want this to work. Other highly regulated industries present a united front to regulators, and then compete with each other in markets. Here, it feels like we are competing with each other in writing the regulation, instead of finding something that can create a functional market with room for all players. 


Image Source: INCBA

What are your plans for INCBA?

Too much to discuss - come to CLI to find out! 

What advice would you like to give to the lawyers who wish to join the industry?

Join INCBA! 

Interviewed by Prithvi Nagpal, Editor & Sommelier at  Beverage Trade Network