“Personally, I don’t use cannabis, but I think it is absolutely critical that people who do choose to enjoy the plant are permitted to do so…The cannabis industry is exploding with passion and excitement and we love helping these amazing entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams.”
The cannabis industry (both medical and recreational) has many proponents, both avid cannabis users and those who abstain. We hear a lot from our fellow weed smokers, but we don’t often get to connect with those who are actively supporting and forwarding the industry, and don’t choose to use cannabis personally. Howard Cohn, Managing Partner of THC Legal Group is a non-cannabis user who is still passionate about supporting the budding industry; his practice represents marijuana startups and specializes in intellectual property protection. Read on to find out what he had to say.
What is your name and title?
Howard Cohn, Managing Partner of THC Legal Group
How did you get started practicing cannabis law?
I have been a registered patent attorney for over 35 years and during the course of my career, I have worked with some truly amazing and innovative companies. While cannabis has been legal in some form or another in various states for the last couple of decades, only recently has it made its way to the forefront of the Startup community. As a law firm specializing in startup law and intellectual property protection, we have been increasingly contacted by new cannabis businesses seeking our counsel. We are thrilled and honored to be a part of the cannabis journey for so many brilliant and passionate young companies.
What states do you practice in, and what is a brief overview of the cannabis laws there?
As a registered Patent attorney, I have a license from the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO) to draft and prosecute patent applications anywhere in the country. Additionally, I am licensed to practice “traditional” law in several other states throughout the nation. Our headquarters is in Cleveland, Ohio, an incredibly exciting place to be for anyone involved in the cannabis industry. As of September 8, 2016, House Bill 523 was put into effect and officially legalized medical marijuana in Ohio. The mechanics involved in applying for and acquiring a dispensary license has not been fully issued but hopefully, Ohio’s cannabis market will be operational by the first quarter of 2018.
Why are you representing the cannabis industry?
Principally, our interest in the cannabis industry stems from two separate imperatives. The first is a deep-seated concern with excessive government intrusion in the private lives of its citizens. As a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), cannabis is considered to be an exceptionally harmful substance with zero medicinal benefit. Yes, it was as shocking for me to write that sentence as it was for you to read it. We want to see the government remove itself, as much as is reasonably possible, from the private lives of its citizens. Cannabis criminalization is a paradigmatic example of the sort of government interference that we find intolerable.
Second, as a legal group specializing in intellectual property protection, we are obsessed with working with people that are innovators and visionaries. The cannabis industry is exploding with passion and excitement and we love helping these amazing entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams.
Why do you think it’s important for cannabis companies to have adequate legal representation?
Like any business, cannabis companies must take any and all steps available to protect their economic interests. Given the novel and unique nature of cannabis law, it is imperative that cannabis companies work with attorneys who are specialists in this field.
What would you say is the best way for businesses in the cannabis industry to protect their intellectual property?
Fundamentally, intellectual property covers ideas, inventions and other creative productions of the mind. Depending on the nature of the idea, different avenues of intellectual property protection are required. Cannabis companies should work to protect their branding materials (logo, names, taglines) with trademarks (if and when possible) and novel inventions with patents.
Have you ran into any big hurdles regarding current cannabis laws?
Cannabis’s status as a Schedule 1 Drug under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) has created massive difficulties in a number of regulatory sectors for businesses in the industry. For our purposes, trademarks have been particularly burdened by their CSA classification and have proven to be challenging to acquire. Under trademark law, an individual/company cannot acquire a trademark on a good that cannot be legally sold in commerce. Of course, as an illegal substance, cannabis cannot legally be sold in commerce (at least at a federal level) and we must therefore develop creative and dynamic solutions to help companies acquire trademark rights.
If you can share, what is the most interesting case you’ve had?
To a large extent, the cannabis industry is so fascinating because of the people who have engineered and driven it. I will not get into too much detail but a client of ours had a particularly brilliant idea involving an agricultural tool to expedite the growing process of the cannabis plant. This client had a tremendous amount of experience in growing other vegetation, which he was able to call upon to develop a unique system specifically tailored to cannabis. We wish him a great deal of success.
What makes you passionate about cannabis?
Personally, I don’t use cannabis but as I alluded to earlier, I think it is absolutely critical that people who do choose to enjoy the plant are permitted to do so. Cannabis has tremendous heeling properties, both physical and mental, and I am supremely excited to be a part of an industry that has helped so many people in so many different ways.
Have you encountered canna-bias in the workplace or your personal life, and what steps have you taken to overcome it?
While I have certainly received a few raised eyebrows when people learn about our firm’s specialty in cannabis law, the overwhelming amount of feedback we’ve received has been positive. Fortunately, the stigma of the lazy and inept stoner has been replaced with an appreciation for the very real and material industrial benefits the cannabis business has for individuals and States alike.
Where do you see the cannabis industry headed in the future?
It is difficult to know with certainty when cannabis will be fully recreationally legal but there is no doubt that its legalization is inevitable. In the meantime, we expect to see an increasing number of states legalize cannabis, either medicinally or hopefully, recreationally.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
We are often asked by our clients to supply them with a good counterargument to critics of cannabis legalization. It is crucial for both advocates and dissidents alike to remember that the key question is not whether or not one personally chooses to use cannabis, but rather as a matter of public policy; do we really want to throw people in jail for their choice to enjoy this gift from mother earth?
Photo: Toke Tank; Howard’s headshot provided by THC Legal Group
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