Interview with Cannabis Industry Lawyer Rod Kight
Meet Rod Kight.
He's been an advocate for cannabis reform for most of his life. From his business law firm in Asheville, North Carolina, Rod has become one of the leading attorneys at the forefront of cannabis law.
Whether he’s geeking out with scientists in a cannabis testing facility or pitching new legislation to the president of a Caribbean nation, cannabis lawyer Rod Kight is fixated on two things: (1) the problem and (2) how to solve it.
Over the past six years, Rod has built a national reputation as a leading figure in cannabis law. His clients come from all over, from Oregon to Italy. He’s done it all from his small hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.
When I first met Rod in 2019 I quickly realized that cannabis law was more than just a job for him. I sat down with him to find out why.
IL : Rod, let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell us a bit about your career before cannabis law?
RK: I’m a North Carolina native, I’ve lived here for 20 years. For 15 years I focused my law practice on business and bankruptcy law. In 2014 I started phasing out of bankruptcy law completely. My firm is now 100% focused on the cannabis industry.
Was there a particular experience that led you to practice law exclusively for the cannabis industry?
RK: In 2010 I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The diagnosis required chemotherapy. It was a battle. The chemo had me in constant pain. I felt achy, nauseated, and had totally lost my appetite. I was sick and tired of feeling lousy.
Halfway through treatment I decided to try marijuana to see if it would have any positive effect on my health. Almost immediately after smoking a bowl, my achiness disappeared, the nausea was gone, and my appetite was back.
That experience profoundly changed how I view the plant. I discovered that cannabis truly is a medicine. It’s a powerful plant. From there I decided to learn more about cannabis and its laws.
How did you start Learning about the Laws & Regulations pertaining to Cannabis and CBD?
RK: I got my license to practice law in Oregon about 5 years ago. At the same time, coincidentally, the 2014 Farm Bill had passed. It was a breakthrough for cannabis law because it allowed states to create pilot programs and open up cannabis production legally.
That got my attention.
I have always loved research and writing. Before this I had authored several legal books focused on bankruptcy law.
The publisher of those books called me one day and asked if I would be up to publishing another bankruptcy law book for them.
I declined their offer but countered with an offer to write a book on Cannabis Law. They were hesitant but eventually agreed to the idea.
With that, I began researching existing cannabis laws and regulations. I couldn’t find anything really helpful. There were no hornbooks or resource materials.
I wrote the book and they published it. I continued to research and write about cannabis law by launching my own blog.
When was the first time you felt successful? That moment when you realized that focusing on cannabis law was the right move?
RK: As my cannabis law blog “Kight on Cannabis” grew in readership I began receiving questions from readers. Sometime in late 2014 or early 2015 I was asked about the legal status of CBD.
I did some research and discovered that there was nothing of any help regarding the legal status of CBD. I had read a colleague’s opinion letter on the matter and determined that it was wrong. This led me to develop a legal theory about CBD’s legal status, which later became known as the “Source Rule”. Essentially, this means that CBD is lawful or not based on its source. I began writing on this topic and got a lot of interest.
There were cannabis business entrepreneurs losing sleep at night worrying if their CBD was legal. I helped clear up those questions and things grew from there.
Where are your clients located ?
RK: North Carolina is known for hemp production, so we have a bunch of local clients here in the hemp manufacturing. In addition to that, my team is strategically located across the country.
We have an associate based in Portland, Oregon, one in Austin, Texas, and another in South Carolina.
This allows us to service cannabis, cbd and hemp companies nationwide.
We’ve also grown internationally with clients now in several European and South American.
While we continue grow it’s important that we maintain close relationships to each one of our existing clients.
For cannabis industry entrepreneurs, what would you tell them are the advantages of going to a specialized, boutique firm instead of a big law firm?
RK: With a smaller firm like ours, you work with an attorney who is 100 % focused on cannabis law, all the time.
I’ve had clients come to us after working with larger firms that have just gotten involved in cannabis law and they’ve told me that they spent most of their time teaching the lawyer about cannabis production and regulations.
With a smaller, focused team – the reverse is true. You receive personalized service, calls or texts right to my phone. It’s my job to educate you, the client.
Do you have a mentor or maybe another lawyer that inspires you?
RK: I get inspiration all the time by lawyers in the cannabis industry. I find that most of my colleagues are smart, passionate lawyers who love to collaborate.
One lawyer in particular who I’ve worked with and have a great amount of respect for is Bob Hoban, in Colorado.
He is a true pioneer in the field of cannabis law.
What’s your favorite aspect of what you do?
RK: I’m a problem solver by nature. I love working with a client and brainstorming with them to solve a problem. It’s a rewarding challenge.
It’s different than litigating, I enjoy the consultative aspect of this business.
What’s one of the coolest things you’ve gotten to do?
RK: I’m a lawyer by trade but I’m also a science geek. Getting a chance to geek out with cannabis scientists is very cool.
I love touring facilities and learning about their machinery.
Chris Hudalla of ProVerde Labs took me on a tour through their facilities and that was just an awesome experience.
Oh, there’s one more. I got the opportunity to draft and present cannabis legislation for a Caribbean nation. I travelled down to the Caribbean and presented new legislation to the country’s President and his cabinet staff.
I can remember feeling a bit nervous sitting outside those offices, thinking about how they would receive me.
Mid-way through my speech, the entire room just stood up and started applauding. Here I am down in the Caribbean pitching new laws and receiving such an enthusiastic response, it was a first. Something I’ll never forget.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to entrepreneurs looking to get started in the cannabis industry?
RK: The cannabis industry right now has so many opportunities. The amount of opportunities can sometimes be overwhelming to new businesses. Too many options can paralyze a would-be entrepreneur.
It’s like walking into a buffet: there are so many items you can put on your plate, but at some point you’ve got to make a clear decision on what you are going to eat.
You won’t succeed in this industry by doing it all. Pick your specific skill and execute on it.