Ivy League lawyer guides one of California’s top law firms into the era of legal cannabis
As prospective cannabis entrepreneurs attempt to understand state and local regulations — while putting together business plans and marketing strategies — many attorneys across the country are scrambling to do the same. After all, the marijuana business and its complex regulations weren’t exactly taught at law school.
After working at San Francisco-based Farella Braun + Martel LLP for a few years, Ryan Lowther led the law firm’s incursion into the cannabis space. Since it was both his and the firm’s first venture into the world of legal marijuana, he had to become an overnight expert in the field, undergoing a crash course in cannabis to fill in the gaps from his Columbia Law School education.
“Cannabis is different than any other industry,” he says. “I had to come up to speed immediately and started looking around, going to conferences and seeing the opportunity to add a lot of value to the industry and bring what we’ve done in our other practice areas.”
Lowther brought his findings to the partners at the firm, which started building one of the largest full-service cannabis legal teams in California, if not the country.
“It wasn’t a decision in a closed room,” he says. “I think it was more that I had the enthusiasm and passion for it.”
Farella Braun + Martel has been in business for more than 50 years and has about 130 lawyers on staff, including experts in a wide range of different sectors, many of which overlap with cannabis. Lowther chairs the firm’s cannabis industry practice, working alongside lawyers who specialize in real estate, environmental law, tax, insurance, employment and litigation.
“We’ve been doing the cannabis side for about four years,” says Lowther, now a partner at the firm. “But what I think distinguishes Farella from other firms is that we do have a full-service practice that can help with any needs of the client.”
Farella Braun + Martel was among the first law firms in the country to create a team specifically tailored for cannabis business. Since then Lowther has become a leading expert in the state, writing multiple columns for business journals and being tapped by news agencies across the U.S. to demystify the inner workings of the state’s regulations.
He’s also working to promote best practices for the industry at large, with a heavy emphasis on compliance.
“I think it’s important that, at any company, someone should take ownership of compliance with regulations,” he says. “It’s absolutely not a silver bullet, but it goes a long way. We are all learning. The regulations are just coming out so there’s an opportunity for the businesses to learn alongside the lawyers in this context and they will be able to handle a lot of compliance internally.”