“Build a strong foundation and prepare for a long road ahead.”
These are the carefully chosen words of advice from legendary Los Angeles cannabis lawyer, Brandon Dorsky to aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs, creatives and companies.
Once you learn about the impact Dorsky has had on the cannabis industry, the blending of cannabis with entertainment, those words carry weight.
Back in 2011, he had the cast of Entourage heavily sporting (and thus promoting) a local Los Angeles cannabis-themed fashion brand, Grassroots California’s hats. A few episodes later they were smoking weed from ROOR Bongs. It’s no coincidence that both brands (Grassroots California & ROOR) were represented by Brandon Dorsky.
He is also responsible for having legendary pro-cannabis celebs like Snoop Dogg, Action Bronson and The Game vaping with G Pen. But he will mention these big moments in cannabis, these breakthrough brand placements – with little ballyhoo. In fact, you cannot tell if the cannabis brands he’s helped catapult to fame and success are his actual clients or just his close friends.
He doesn’t make a big deal out of doing big deals and I’ve learned that it’s because cannabis law isn’t a job for Brandon Dorsky, it’s a way of life.
But it almost wasn’t…Let me explain.
The cannabis industry has the Great Recession to thank for Dorsky’s positive impact. Without the economic fallout from ’08, Dorsky may still be working in big law, enjoying a successful career in intellectual property litigation.
But when the recession hit, his best laid plans for big law success took a serious detour. His firm at the time laid him off abruptly and in doing so, stripped him of an impressive job title. With nothing more than a strong legal foundation in place, Dorsky prepared for the long road ahead, in one of few industries that would align with his passions: cannabis.
It was 2009 and suddenly, he was a free agent. Dorsky decided to creatively announce his next career plans via a series of eNewsletters sent to his rather large network of artists, designers and creatives in L.A.
The subject of the first eNewsletter read: “Brandon’s LA Concert Blast – Volume I.”
After receiving a few serious replies and eventual clients, his law firm, The Law Offices of Brandon Dorsky, launched in 2009.
I had the opportunity to speak with Brandon Dorsky about his start in the cannabis industry, his thoughts on what lies ahead, and any advice he would share with aspiring creatives or entrepreneurs.
(IL): Brandon, we know you do a lot of creative work as an entertainment and cannabis lawyer in Los Angeles. Can you explain everything you do at your firm… give us a breakdown of your practice focus: IP law, Entertainment law, Cannabis?
BD: Law Offices of Brandon Dorsky specializes in representing individuals and businesses in the cannabis industry, both marijuana and hemp, as well as those in creative endeavors like music, film, food, new media, design, fashion and other forms of entertainment.
I work with a lot of artists – whether their playground is sounds, visuals, fabric or a cannabis garden depends on the client. I’ve personally done a tremendous amount of work at the intersection of entertainment and cannabis cultures, including talent endorsements, sponsorship campaigns, product integrations, cannabis infused dining events and cannabis friendly event productions.
Anything that relates to the branding of cannabis and helping companies build their brand identity in the cannabis marketplace is within my arena of expertise.
I think what makes my practice unique is I’m not only working with companies on their legal needs and helping mitigate their risk, but I sometimes assist clients in their overall strategy and the culture that grows from it.
For some of my clients I am involved directly in the creative process as well.
I have had the honor to not only do legal work on exciting deals, but engage artistically with tons of talented and creative people like Tuesday Bassen, Evan Fox (of Yeastie Boys), Chris Folkerts (G Pen), AJ Sour Diesel, Mama Sailene, Mark Foster (of Foster The People), Stephen Sternschein, Lewis Kunstler, Kosha Dillz, Brandon Coleman, Lane Shaw (Mansions on the Moon/Pnuma Trio), David Wexler (aka Strangeloop), TOKiMONSTA, Taz Arnold, Action Bronson, Maggie Wilson, AJ Jackson (of Saint Motel), Atit Shah, members of Lettuce and so many more.
I also work directly with and am Of Counsel for Hoban Law Group, so to the extent a client has needs in subject matter that is not my firm’s specialty, there are strong relationships with other talented attorneys to help ensure clients receive the advisement they need.
Each lawyer with a significant footprint in the industry has their story. What led you to the cannabis industry? Any specific moment?
I was laid off from a big law firm (Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw & Pittman) in 2009 amidst the economic downturn, and that basically accelerated my career into legal services for cannabis. Less than a week after losing my job, I sent out a newsletter to a few hundred people, and that day I had a referral to someone who had a vaporizer company and needed contract help.
Shortly thereafter, I was referred to a friend of a friend that was launching a clothing brand targeting cannabis culture, Grassroots California.
The work I did with Grassroots California really fueled the growth of my client base within the cannabis industry. Grassroots’ unique approach was to initially sell their products at cannabis dispensaries and counter culture tradeshows. Their products were limited to 420 units of each item.
In addition to handling the company’s general legal needs, I negotiated merchandising deals with entertainers, cannabis brands and festivals, including an exclusive deal to produce hats for High Times’ Cannabis Cups.
I helped craft some of Grassroots California’s marketing strategies, contributed to some of the product designs and attended trade shows on behalf of the company.
Securing contracts with cannabis brands for merchandise introduced me to some other industry players, but momentum for Grassroots California and my representation of other cannabis industry products and brands and operators really picked up once I secured product placements and product integrations on the HBO series Entourage. Entourage even had an episode about a hat that was only available in dispensaries and I was in the episode.
After Big Gigantic’s Grassroots California hat ended up on Entourage, and then again after the dispensary hat episode, people started coming to Grassroots California’s booth at trade shows asking how the products were appearing on Entourage.
At a CHAMPS trade show in Las Vegas, representatives of ROOR came to the booth trying to find the guy that had made the Entourage drops possible. Within a week, I was representing ROOR and shortly thereafter ROOR’s bongs were all over the Entourage set. Grassroots California hats, ROORs, different vaporizers and 420 Science jars all ended up strategically placed within Entourage episodes through my efforts.
My footprint within cannabis expanded from there and I began representing more individuals and companies in the cannabis space.
My next series of successes were with ROOR, and then later with Grenco Science and G Pen, who brought me on board in 2012. I negotiated their deals with brands and celebrities, including products with Action Bronson, Snoop, The Game, Zeds Dead, Mayhem Music Festival, and FCK Cancer.
I even helped them produce a multi-day party during Coachella that featured performances by Action Bronson, Ghostface Killah, The Gaslamp Killer, TokiMonsta, Method Man, an art installation by Bert Rodriguez, and a product collaboration with BEEN TRILL and Virgil Abloh.
Some of the work I did with Grassroots California, G Pen (Grenco Science) and ROOR really helped propel me to where I am now.
Very cool. Where are the hot spots in the industry right now for you, what are you most busy with at your firm?
A few different things come to mind.
Brand management strategies, including Intellectual property protection and licensing strategies are what I’m working on most frequently.
I’m doing a healthy amount of advisement with respect to brands in the CBD space and those contemplating THC and CBD SKUs, as well as just advisement on overall brand strategy, including consulting on names of products and brands and registering IP rights like copyrights and trademarks.
Cleaning up organizational structures and operating issues within pre-existing cannabis businesses and participating in restructuring of existing operations is also common.
I’m seeing an uptick in interest in 280E mitigation strategies and advising on how to adjust operations to respond to tax realities of the industry. I am expecting to see that continue to heat up. Obviously whenever a new licensing opportunity emerges, there `tends to be a flurry of activity too.
Do you have any mentors, inspirational figures in the legal industry? Any people who have helped you get where you are today?
Early on in my career I worked with some great IP attorneys at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw and Pittman, as well as the brilliant fair use attorneys Michael Donaldson and Lisa Callif. I also apprenticed with Michael Runnels, the business affairs legend at ICM and Ted McKinney, the CFO of Mosaic Media Group.
I had great professionals teach me the ropes of IP practice, although I have pioneered a handful of the effective intellectual property strategies in cannabis without a specific industry legal mentor or predecessor guiding the way.
I have also had the privilege of working with some veterans of the industry, including Parker Moselle, who founded Seedless Clothing Co. and now runs Parker Brothers Presents, Inc., Eric Foster, from Humboldt Seed Organization and Sovereign Fields, whom I met when he worked with Roor, Ryan Connolly, the founder of Grassroots California, who was my first client within the cannabis and counter-culture industry, Chris Folkerts and Anthony Barron, who launched Grenco Science into the vaporizer stratosphere with G Pen, Mike Leago, who is a king of hemp seeds and genetics with iHempX and HGH, and Arthur Isagholian, from Hawthorne, who has helped many commercial cultivators more efficiently operate.
I also have to throw some shine on Roxanne Dennant, the CEO of the company behind Fruit Slabs, a California based vegan, kosher-certified, organic, low calorie edible.
Certainly, last but not least, I’m grateful to all the pioneers of the industry, from the cultivators and strain hunters, to the trimmers and original dispensary operators that risked their lives for the cannabis industry. I would not be doing what I do and be able to help the people I help if those pioneers did not make the sacrifices that paved the road for the cannabis industry to be where it is today.
What’s your favorite aspect about what you do as an entertainment and cannabis lawyer in California?
I enjoy helping and being of service, particularly to those who have passion for what they do. With musicians, creative content geniuses, designers and cannabis entrepreneurs, many of them are extremely passionate people who were willing to take risks and chose a career path fraught with uncertainty that I was not willing to make my own career. They took those risks I was scared to take and admire them for it.
I also derive value out of helping passionate people realize their dreams. I guess you can say I get to experience the joy of their passion without having to take the same risk. I have produced music, I have grown cannabis, I have designed clothing and merchandise and, although I am passionate about those endeavors, I did not feel comfortable pursuing those paradigms as my career.
I would rather represent the people that do that and I have great respect for my clients and the risks they have taken.
I also enjoy solving complex problems and coming up with creative solutions. With the constantly evolving landscape that is the cannabis industry, there is never a dull moment or a shortage of situations requiring creative solutions.
As someone who has worked with a lot of successful business people and creatives, do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs ?
I would advise entrepreneurs and people considering putting their time energy and resources into any endeavor – to only commit to it if you are passionate about what you are doing.
There will likely be transaction costs and frustration early on in any business. Success is not just handed to you. It will be easier to get through tough times and you will be better equipped to endure and navigate thru any struggle if you are passionate about what you are doing. Much more so than if your end goal is just to make money.
Advice to Entrepreneurs entering the cannabis industry?
The industry is unique; it does not operate like any other. The rules and regulations are not like those of the fashion industry or online consulting. Cannabis is vastly different. The transaction costs of being compliant and total taxes paid by operators are significantly greater than they are in other industries. Although there is a lot of landscape to be populated within the cannabis industry, the path to profitability is not necessarily shorter than other industries just because it is young. The notion of a Green Rush adequately describes the money flowing in at this time, not the money flowing out.
What’s Next for the cannabis industry?
The industry is constantly evolving.
I’m anticipating a movement with growth in craft brands and higher end products over the next few years.
I believe we will see an increasing push for patent protection for plants from creative cultivators and operators that have invested in breeding and new strain generation. You can currently get the patents, but not a ton of operators or cultivators are filing them in my opinion. I think, and hope, there will be an increased focus on plant patent protection strategies.
Industry players are paying close attention to the USPTO’s behavior surrounding trademarks for CBD goods and the FDA and FTC’s enforcement of their regulations. Investments in and the marketing of products are likely going to be influenced by activity at the federal regulatory level. Promotion of products that feature other cannabinoids that are not CBD, like CBG or CBN, may be an outcome of tighter enforcement of regulations concerning CBD products.
Also, in response to Covid, I would anticipate a potential increase in non-smokable consumption. More people using edibles or drinkables, items that are not shared, as opposed to pre-rolled joints or smokeable flower or vaporizers. Individual dosed or micro-dosed consumption as opposed to shared consumption methods would seem to be a logical response to practicing safe social distancing.
The smoking of cannabis has always been a shared activity, but with a worldwide concern for infecting your neighbor, increased concerns about lung health and a movement towards social distancing, I think there could be a move away from sharing smoke-able cannabis in the form of large joints or heavily dosed pre-rolls.
Your thoughts on the domestic and global state of the cannabis Industry?
Domestically we see an immediate regulatory slowdown in response to Covid. Politicians have more immediately pressing concerns.
Nevertheless, the industry gained ground in most states with the declaration that cannabis businesses were an essential service.
I believe we may see some accelerated expansion domestically and globally because cannabis is a revenue generator and job creator and right now we are suffering a massive loss in tax revenue and employment from all sorts of industries.
In response, some states and cities may be looking for a solution on how to generate revenue. Cannabis, both marijuana and hemp industries, are reasonable options.
Spain had tremendous unemployment numbers recently, and their cannabis industry has exploded.
It has arguably become the epicenter of cannabis in Europe.
There are shops selling smokeable CBD flower and genetics on main streets and multiple underground clubs for smoking marijuana.
Economic factors that helped contribute to Barcelona now being the real European center for cannabis will likely emerge elsewhere with increasing unemployment as a result of COVID-19 impacts. I can see a country like Italy, who got hit very hard by Covid, looking to cannabis for the purpose of job creation and renewed tourism.
I could see a state like Louisiana that is hard hit by COVID-19, as well as by the loss of tourism, considering accelerating their marijuana program to allow for recreational use. I could see almost any state or country that does not yet have a legal market consider legal marijuana as a means for creating jobs and tax revenue.
It is possible the pandemic could have a net effect of accelerating the commercialization or the tolerance of cannabis consumption domestically and internationally.as