Lawyer, CannaBusiness Law
San Francisco, California
While wrestling with the task of shifting her career focus and the balancing act of life, Kyndra Miller developed a motto that would guide her activism for the cannabis industry.
“Be an activist right where you are.”
That meant starting local, starting close, starting with people that were already a part of the lawyer’s inner circle.
That meant a phone call to her mother.
Her mother’s initial response was one of fears and concerns. Why did it have to be marijuana? “What about the death penalty?” Miller remembers her mother asking.
But as the conversation shifted from concern to acceptance, Miller’s confidence soared.
“If I can get her approval, I can talk to anybody,” Miller said.
It was one of two key turning points in her 14-year legal career — the other was moving into Pier 5 Law Offices, which initiated the transition from entertainment law to cannabis business law. Pier 5 is a collective of sole practitioner attorneys with shared office space in San Francisco, led by renowned criminal defense attorney Tony Serra.
“Being in that environment of revolutionary attorneys, I started to think about how I could bring my business skills to the cannabis movement,” Miller said. The first leg of her legal career was rooted in Hollywood, as she represented producers in the independent film and television world on matters of civil litigation and business law. (Miller said she’s been a cannabis consumer since she was a teenager and joked that it might have helped launch her legal career. “Frankly, I don’t know how I would have survived law school without it,” she says with a jovial laugh).
As she looked at expanding her practice, she began to educate herself on the civil rights aspect of the cannabis movement, the way minorities and the poor are prosecuted disproportionately to their wealthy, white counterparts. She was seeing families torn apart and put through the criminal system for non-violent, cannabis-related crimes by laws that were “being unfairly enforced against black and brown bodies,” she said.
“This is my duty, this is my calling. This is a civil rights issue for me,” she said. “I can use my skills as an attorney to reform the law. That’s when I opened up CannaBusiness Law.”
In the past six years or so that she’s been building her practice, Miller has seen tremendous changes in the cannabis industry, both within her home state of California and across the nation. Cannabis continues to transition from an underground, taboo subject into a topic of broader, mainstream acceptance. With that comes a different set of challenges, particularly as the Golden States braces itself for the 2016 election.
When she started CannaBusiness Law, she was helping patients form collectives and cooperatives. Now she’s counseling clients on business structure, how to properly raise and accept money, how to protect personal assets and to be aware of corporate takeovers.
The ever-changing nature of the cannabis industry shows how far the laws have come, Miller said, but it also shows how far they still need to go.
What she calls “the dark days of 2011” aren’t that far in the past. Despite casual assurances from the federal government, raids and seizures were anything but a thing of the past; civil forfeiture letters were being sent out and people were pulling back into the underground.
“It was a much scarier time than it was now,” Miller recalls.
She believes the risks associated with the cannabis industry of the past are a major reason the industry is so heavily dominated by men. Despite the largely male contingent of business owners, Miller said the cannabis industry has been far more accepting of women than either the entertainment business or the legal realm. She said there was a tremendous amount of support from men when the NORML Women’s Alliance was founded.
The possibility of jail may have kept many women from getting involved. However, the legalization trend is making penalties more financial in nature, as opposed to the threat of incarceration. It’s opened the door for women to join the business.
“I think women are in a unique time in history,” Miller said. “Not only in the cannabis industry, but every industry we see the impact that a woman’s perspective can bring to any decision-making environment. What I think is happening in the cannabis industry is pretty consistent with what’s happening in other industries where women are rising to the ranks and bringing a sense of balance to the board room.”
With California’s 2016 election looming large, not just for the local economy, but also the national cannabis movement, Miller said she’s going to continue to advocate from the perspective of small business owners.
“This industry was built on the backs of farmers and small business owners,” she said. “We are here today because of those farmers and small business owners who weren’t afraid to take the risk.”
While some states have struggled with integrating the medical and recreational marijuana sectors, Miller said she’s hopeful that California will be able to maintain its medical system, as well as adopting a framework for full legalization.
She said she just wants to make sure the laws are written with fairness and integrity in mind.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect law,” she said. “If there was, there wouldn’t be a need for so many attorneys.”