There’s no crying in cannabis.
It’s something you might hear from Maryland-based Cannabis lawyer, Emily Burns, who brings an objective business-minded approach to the table when working alongside CBD and hemp companies.
Although there is still somewhat of a stigma attached to the industry on the East Coast, she believes that shouldn’t effect the way legal businesses operate. “Sure, the government messed up with the War on Drugs but that’s no excuse to make poor business decisions for your company.” In other words, just because we’re in a heavily regulated industry doesn’t mean you can break the law.
She is one of a very few, fully-dedicated cannabis attorneys on the East Coast. But being in her own lane never bothered Burns. When her fellow law school students only saw risk at the idea of specializing in cannabis law, Burns saw the opportunity.
What drives her to the fore is not the advocacy side of legalizing marijuana, but the complex problems this highly regulated industry presents to entrepreneurs and business owners. The opportunity to figure these out these unprecedented problems and solve them is foremost why she signed up for a career in cannabis law.
From a fortuitous class she took while enrolled at Vanderbilt Law School, reinforcement from a renowned law professor and a pension for independent thinking, Burns brings a unique mindset to the industry.
Thankfully, we were able to connect this week. I sat down with Emily to find out where her firm’s focus lies, her thoughts on the industry as a whole and any objective advice she can share for would-be entrepreneurs in emerging industries, like cannabis.
(IL): Emily can you tell us a bit about your firm Legally Burns and the types of cannabis industry clients you work with?
(EB): Yes, I have had the good fortune of working with cbd and hemp clients throughout the country.
In addition to my firm here I am also of counsel to Greenlight Law Group in Oregon, who maintains a large network of clients in Canada, Washington, Florida, really over the map.
As far as my own practice in Maryland – I am licensed in MD, with clients in NJ and PA. I assist companies with their application process for licenses, regulatory compliance, assist them with federal laws. I work for companies in both the CBD and Hemp industries.
I believe you started practicing cannabis law right out of law school, correct? Was there a moment or something you experienced that led you to the industry?
Well I had done environmental and energy law previously, but my curiosity in the cannabis industry peaked while attending Vanderbilt Law School. They actually offered one of the first courses on marijuana law policy.
At the time it was a highly stigmatized legal focus, but I thought it was fascinating given all the legal issues it presented. To me it represented a once in a lifetime opportunity.
When many others saw the risk involved, I saw opportunity. So, over 5 years ago I decided to pursue this career.
Robert Mikos, my professor at the time was writing the first case book on marijuana policy and I spent over a year working for him and working on every chapter in the book.
That project gave me the opportunity to answer fundamental questions like: What is marijuana? What are the distinctions between cbd and hemp. I was exploring these issues and getting paid to do so.
Research for the book forced me to learn it all first-hand.
People say you don’t learn in law school, but that experience proved them all wrong! I am constantly correcting and informing people because they never got that foundational learning experience presented to them.
I know that companies in the cannabis industry may have varying experiences depending on which type of law firm they work with. Can you share some insight on why companies tend to have more success going to a cannabis-focused lawyer?
First and foremost, my clients care about cost. So I always keep that in mind.
Many of the big law firms will take on cannabis clients to provide competent and good legal advice to their clients. But I feel like the stigma of cannabis law has prevented them from really owning the industry. So, I do feel that big law missed out.
My goal is to provide objective, real world business advice and I’m fortunate to be able to continue doing that, helping growers and hemp companies succeed. It all started with my foundation, objective learning and my experience in working on public health policy in Maryland.
Do you have any general advice to entrepreneurs entering the heavily regulated world of cannabis?
I think anyone who is getting into the industry should make sure they are receiving objective and truthful information. A lot of times, due to hyperbole around the war on drugs, it’s easy for businesspeople to dismiss to any legitimate concerns about marijuana, due to “reefer madness.”
It’s really important to remember what policy and political landscape you are working in and how future reforms are going to impact the industry.
For example, working in Maryland is completely different than operating in New Jersey and doing public policy with Cory Booker. From state to state the landscape is incredibly different. I also truly feel that Federal Prohibition is not really holding the industry back so I tell clients not to make excuses because of it.
You’ve got to be a self starter, but also anticipate upcoming changes in law that can affect the economics of the industry.
My Practical advice:
Look at your cost Benefit analysis. What do you value, what’s your value system?
Figure out those basic fundamentals first.
Things will continue to change, the industry will become more highly regulated and it’s just going to get harder to do business.
I have worked in public health policy, on tobacco litiagation , with the FDA overseeing CBD and marijuana products, I know from experience that it’s only going to get worse.
The government messed up with the war on the drugs but that does not excuse poor business decisions or provide an excuse for making risky decisions.
Stay objective, be transparent, care about people’s health. long term or not care about peoples health .Opoid crisis , pharma big tobacco settlement. Anticipate.
What drives you to provide optimal outcomes for your cannabis business clients?
Even back when I was in law school, I always wanted to think for myself and form my own opinions. I get excited about the opportunity to solve novel legal issues. Also being the first to do something drives me. Like Cannaline, I helped them secure their first marijuana paraphernalia license and that was very rewarding.
I’ve found that most lawyers are risk averse.
For me, money is not the motivator. Honestly I’m not doing for the advocacy side. I care about the complex banking and IP issues that are happening in the industry. At the end of the day, what matters to me is seeking the truth, using my reason and critical thinking to come up with a legal analysis. To find an answer to a question that cannot be found on Google.
I think it’s really important to have a holistic view of the industry without relying on the big players to inform you. After all, the Media is constantly wrong about this industry.
What are the traits that have helped your cannabis law practice in Maryland evolve?
First is CURIOUSITY, a willingness to LEARN and the drive to CREATE. Independent thinking is incredibly important in this industry and I love to learn. So if people pay me to solve novel legal problems, it’s a perfect place for me to be.
Have you had any mentors, any other cannabis industry lawyers that have helped you along the way?
My professor Mikos at Vanderbilt Law. He encouraged me when everyone else told me not to pursue this career. He said don’t worry about it, if you can’t get interviewed or it’s not easy at first. His shear naivety when it comes to marijuana and the industry as a whole was an inspiration. He’s a big reason why I’ve gotten things right when others have not. We both ended up teaching each other.
Also, John Hudak at the Brookings Institute. He’s played an important role in crafting Marijuana policy. He’s been a big supporter and always welcomed me in and saw my potential long before others did.
Two attorneys I’d like to mention as well:
Perry Saulzhauer. He’s a Vandy alum and is the founder of Greenlight Law Group. Four years ago I reached out to him and we have collaborating to help various clients ever since.
Brad Blommer is also extremely knowledgeable in the industry.
Any thoughts on the Future of the industry? Trends you see ahead for the cannabis industry?
Yes I think we are going to see an increase in both product liability litigation and securities lawsuits. To be honest there will be a lot of licensing disputes that are going to be settled by the Fed.
By how the game has been played by some companies, I believe there will be a day of reckoning as things come out into the light.
Things have been going that the media has been hush hush about and some entrepreneurs may end up losing their licenses over it – cleaning house in a way.