Former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and former Attorney General David Louie have sent letters to the state Supreme Court urging the justices to change a recent opinion by their Disciplinary Board that warns attorneys against helping applicants seeking medical marijuana dispensary licenses.

Carlisle, who was also Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney for 14 years, acknowledged in his letter that he is representing an organization looking to apply for a license. Louie said Friday that he is “representing some interests that are working with people who are applying for a license.”

The Disciplinary Board opinion surfaced weeks before a deadline next month for applicants to have $1.2 million in the bank. Hawaii legalized medical marijuana dispensaries earlier this year and is scheduled to have 16 operating by next summer.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle at a budget briefing.
Peter Carlisle was mayor of Honolulu from 2010 to 2012. Michael Levine/Civil Beat

The Disciplinary Board concluded that attorneys shouldn’t provide legal services to help establish or operate businesses because that would assist in committing a federal crime.

Several other states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes and four states have legalized recreational use, but cannabis is officially a Schedule I drug at the federal level. Still, many of those states have found a way to allow attorneys to assist the industry without the threat of repercussions.

Carlisle, who represents a organization called the Wellness Group that’s planning to apply for a license to grow and sell medical cannabis, told Civil Beat on Thursday that the board’s opinion took him completely by surprise.

“That opinion has created a lot of problems, a lot of concerns, and needs to be addressed and fixed or completely thrown out if possible,” Carlisle said. “Speed is, in my opinion, of the essence in this case.”

The letter from Louie, who was the attorney general from 2010 to 2014, also calls on the justices to take immediate action. Louie said 23 other attorneys signed onto it.

“While Opinion No. 49 has a certain internal logic and reasoning, its practical effect has been to create an impossible situation and cause uncertainty and confusion for the public and the legal community,” Louie wrote.

“If the threat of disciplinary action for providing legal advice about compliance Act 241, a lawfully enacted state law, is left uncorrected, the Opinion will lead to an absurd result that will harm the public interest, negatively impact public safety, and defeat the purpose of ensuring that qualified patients have safe, legal access to their physician-approved medical treatment in Hawaii.”

Read the letters below:

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