Jewish lawyer to teach Pitt’s first ‘Cannabis in the Law’ course
Pennsylvania has a habit.
More than 740,000 patients and caregivers have signed up to receive medical marijuana since it was legalized by the state in 2016, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Council. This figure represents more than $4.8 billion in sales and more than 56 million products distributed in the state.
Selling marijuana is big business, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Some states, like Colorado and New Jersey, have already decriminalized the purchase of marijuana for personal use, and lawmakers in Pennsylvania have discussed the possibility of legalizing recreational cannabis use here. In fact, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has advocated for a change in the law – which is notable as he is campaigning to be the Democratic nominee for the US Senate.
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As the debate continues over the decriminalization of marijuana, one thing is clear: there will be a host of new legal issues for the next generation of business owners and lawyers to wrestle with.
The University of Pittsburgh School of Law has teamed up with Leech Tishman’s partner Michael Sampson to offer an inaugural “Cannabis in the Law” course to be taught next fall.
Sampson has represented companies in the cannabis industry for the past decade, and he thinks it’s an interesting area of law.
“In particular,” he noted, “because cannabis is still federally illegal. There are a myriad of complex, unique and cutting-edge legal issues.
The new course is necessary, Sampson explained, because at one point there was an attempt to wall off the cannabis industry. This is no longer possible, he says.
“I don’t think you can say any longer, ‘As a lawyer, I’m not going to interact with the cannabis industry.'”
New lawyers, he said, will need to understand the unique challenges.
Sampson said while several universities offer courses related to the marijuana industry, they tend to stay in agricultural departments. Pitt, however, has come to the fore in exploring the interesting and difficult legal issues inherent in the industry, he said.
Several themes have developed and will continue to develop as the industry matures, Sampson explained, noting regulations that vary from state to state; the intersection of state and federal laws; whether universities can or will accept funding from cannabis companies; and athlete collective bargaining over the use of marijuana in professional sports.
That’s before federal tax and banking issues are even considered, he said.
Sampson, who joined Leech Tishman to help rebuild his insurance coverage practice and grow his cannabis practice, said it is wrong to think there is a “cannabis lawyer”, pointing out that It’s a complicated, multi-billion dollar industry that touches on a variety of other industries and legal areas.
For example, he said, a lawyer may be negotiating a lease for retail space for a cannabis dispensary. As part of the lease, the landlord may want to reserve the right to enter the property and inspect it.
“That makes sense if you have a candy store,” he said, “but an owner’s ability to enter any part of a cannabis dispensary may not be permitted by law. state law.”
Another significant developing legal issue, Sampson said, could be how a state-owned company handles a potential recall. Normally this would be the responsibility of the Federal Drug Administration, but since cannabis is still federally illegal, this is not an option.
The cannabis industry is an excellent model for examining more generic legal issues covered by a specific application, Sampson said.
“A contract is a contract is a contract, but what kind of protections can you put in the contract so that the other party or the court can’t feign surprise down the road and get away with it because it deals cannabis which is an illegal substance,” he said.
Teaching at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law provided Pittsburgh native Sampson with an opportunity to return to his roots. His father, who died in 2020, was a statistics professor at Pitt for 40 years.
“I had a fabulous relationship with my dad,” Sampson said. “I really wanted to pick up the phone and point out that we’re both teachers.”
Sampson attended community day school before Taylor Allderdice High School and the University of Virginia, where he majored in religious studies. After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, he served as Deputy Director of Legal Affairs for the Anti-Defamation League and spent time in New York and Washington, DC. It was his wife – not a Pittsburgher by birth – who suggested moving back to Pittsburgh in 2003.
Her eldest son, who is now in Allderdice, attended CDS, and her youngest child is now a student there. Sampson’s family is affiliated with Congregation Dor Hadash.
The Cannabis in the Law course is full and Sampson can’t wait to start teaching.
“I’m just excited to start,” he said. PJC
David Rullo can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.