The Hawaii Supreme Court is seeking public input on whether to amend its rules to allow attorneys to help clients who are applying for high-stakes licenses to run medical marijuana dispensaries.

The court’s Disciplinary Board issued a formal opinion last month saying lawyers shouldn’t provide legal services to help establish or operate medical cannabis businesses because that would assist in committing a federal crime.

The opinion has sparked confusion in the legal community and caused problems for some entrepreneurs who are hoping to land one of eight licenses to grow and sell medical cannabis. Medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii for the past 15 years, but the Legislature only legalized dispensaries this year.

Wide view of Hawaii State Supreme Court room. Hoopili case.  25 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Attorneys argue before the Hawaii Supreme Court last  June. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Nearly two dozen attorneys, including former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and former state Attorney General David Louie, asked the Supreme Court this week to quickly change the rules. Both said they are looking to provide services related to medical marijuana.

The proposed amendment would allow attorneys to “counsel or assist a client regarding conduct expressly permitted by Hawaii law, provided that the lawyer counsels the client about the legal consequences, under other applicable law, of the client’s proposed course of conduct.”

The deadline for submitting public comments on the amendment is Oct. 16.

The three-week comment period is much shorter than the usual 90-day comment period, but it’s still valuable time lost for applicants who are finalizing corporate structures and contracts to meet a statutory deadline that requires each organization to have $1.2 million in the bank 90 days before submitting an application in January.

A letter sent earlier this week from Louie and nearly two dozen other attorneys had asked the Supreme Court to “immediately adopt an appropriate comment” rather than going through the lengthy rule-making process.

Still, Carlisle said that to have the Supreme Court to open up a public comment period already “is for the legal system, the speed of light.”

He was optimistic about the court’s action and the timeline.

“There’s a high probability that the implementation of Hawaii’s medicinal marijuana law is back on track,” he said.

Comments can be submitted via email to or mailed or faxed to the Judiciary Communications & Community Relations Office.

Read Civil Beat’s previous coverage of this issue:

Hawaii Lawyers Warned Not to Help Medical Marijuana Businesses

Carlisle, Louie Join Call for Court to Allow Attorneys to Serve Medi-Pot Firms

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