Maggie Widlund is an attorney at 7 Point Law, a leading national law firm dedicated to the protection of cannabis entrepreneurs and the betterment of the industry.
Passionate about cannabis and the evolving industry, Maggie comes from a background in corporate litigation, having learned to mitigate legal battles in the tech world of Silicon Valley; Maggie’s other specializations include intellectual property and corporate transactions. Before joining 7 Point Law, she had worked with a wide variety of clients including investors, startup companies, as well as mature companies being traded on public markets.
Maggie recently joined us for the following interview, wherein she shares advice for aspiring ganjapreneurs in newly legal states, identifies useful knowledge and skills for a law student interested in working for cannabis companies, discusses the industry in terms of a potentially hostile presidential administration, and more!
Ganjapreneur: What was your specialization prior to joining 7 Point Law, and how has it come into play while working for the industry?
Maggie Widlund: Prior to joining 7 Point Law (formerly NWMJ Law), I was a corporate litigator in the Silicon Valley for nearly ten years. My clients ranged from business-savvy, high-net worth individuals and lean, VC-funded start-ups to established public companies, boasting household names. As a litigator, I was in the unique position of viewing the aftermath of corporate agreements — prosecuting and defending deals gone wrong — which imbibed me with insight into universal conflicts that arise in the context of entrepreneurial business relationships. The cannabis industry is no different than the tech industry, or any other emerging industry, in this way. The same issues and conflicts that are prominent among tech companies commonly arise between business partners and investors in the cannabis industry. In fact, due to the current start-up phase of the cannabis industry, much of my practice centers around resolving conflicts and disputes between business partners and investors in the pre-litigation stage of a case.
Why did you decide to bring your expertise to cannabis?
The piecemeal legalization of cannabis throughout the country has spurred lawmakers and legislators to define a new area of law—which is a rare thing — and an amazing opportunity for attorneys generally. I was drawn to the practice of cannabis law because it offers the opportunity to work in a burgeoning area of American legal jurisprudence, where each case or client has potential to shape and define the regulation of and theory behind the industry. This potential exists in an environment that is constantly evolving and changing, giving the industry a thrilling but almost ruthless and wild sensibility. What is more, being on the forefront of such a fast-paced industry has the added benefit of working toward a sea of change in the prevailing cultural and social attitudes toward cannabis, locally and nationally.
With more and more states choosing to forsake the federal prohibition of cannabis, what preparations should ganjapreneurs be making if they live in a freshly legal state?
In preparation for a thriving cannabis industry in states recently joining the growing list of jurisdictions to legalize, ganjapreneurs should borrow roadmaps from other successful start-up industries. A successful approach requires both keen business-mindedness, and a passion for cannabis. Bearing in mind that the cannabis industry is a highly-regulated, intensely scrutinized industry, ganjapreneurs need to do their research and educate themselves thoroughly about all aspects of new business ventures including start-up costs and funding, potential locations and markets, demand in the community, and municipal regulations impacting state-wide statutory schemes. Furthermore, with stringent licensing and compliance requirements, business owners must be diligent about screening the partners, investors, employees and contractors they choose to work with and complying with all licensing and taxation requirements established for their businesses.
How has the new presidential administration affected your interactions with clients?
Initially, I received a bevy of calls from clients reacting to the White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s comments regarding a potential increase in federal enforcement efforts and did see one or two deals abandoned due to concerns over Spicer’s statements. However, the fact of the matter is that it would take a major shift at a policy level, require the diversion of substantial federal resources, and a lengthy judicial challenge process to any proffered change in enforcement before the cannabis industry would be impacted in a significant way. The bottom line is that cannabis is a revenue source for both states and the federal government, and even the current White House would be hard-pressed to rationalize gutting such a lucrative industry.
What actions can business owners take to prepare for, or help prevent, an increase in federal enforcement?
Given the cultural momentum and revenues generated from the growing cannabis industry in the United States, it is unlikely that an increase in federal enforcement will occur. However, should enforcement become more likely, the best defense is a good offense. This industry was founded by activists and pioneers. Business owners should strive to maintain that tradition of activism by promoting the cannabis industry at the local, regional and national level, and being vocal about issues that impact the industry. As an additional measure, business owners should always ensure that they are in keeping with applicable licensing and compliance requirements at all times. Business taxes should be paid on-time, annual licensing renewal fees should be paid promptly, corporate governance statements and filings must be maintained, and all business and financial records should be kept current.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of working alongside cannabis entrepreneurs?
The most rewarding aspect of working with cannabis entrepreneurs is the innovation and creativity that they bring to the industry — it’s invigorating. Clients often come to 7 Point Law for guidance on establishing and protecting their brands, bringing new products to market and facilitating collaborations with other businesses in the industry. Discussing the fast-paced evolutions of the industry with clients while advising them on the legal issues surrounding their conceived innovations inspires me to strive for more creative approaches to legal challenges faced by my clients. In short, interacting closely with my clients makes me a better advocate.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far since becoming a cannabis specialist?
I am not sure I would consider it an obstacle, but I have encountered misconceptions among non-cannabis law practitioners and others unfamiliar with the industry regarding the scope of work that cannabis attorneys perform; as the industry evolves, so does the complexity of the legal services demanded. I do my best to dispel that misconception by striving for excellence in the representation of my clients on a daily basis and informing others about the comprehensive nature of legal services 7 Point Law provides to its clients.
How do you expect the cannabis industry to change over the next 5-10 years?
There are growing pains associated with every start-up industry and the cannabis industry is no different. In the next five to ten years, we will witness the weeding-out of under-funded and unsophisticated businesses in favor of enterprises run by individuals who recognize that longevity is to be achieved through innovation founded on time-tested, traditional business principals. With the industry on-point to mature and flourish on a national scale as more and more states legalize recreational schemes, ganjapreneurs need to evolve their business practices in kind in order to remain competitive.
What recommendations would you offer a law student who wants to specialize in the cannabis sector?
Law students looking to get into cannabis practice should focus their studies on contract law, business lawyering and administrative law courses. Due to the highly-regulated nature of the cannabis industry, service of cannabis clients demands a working knowledge of specific statutory schemes and the rules and procedures of the state administrative agency tasked with licensure, regulation and enforcement of the state-specific laws governing the industry. In addition, a strong foundation in contracts, entity formation and corporate governance will enable young lawyers to provide comprehensive guidance to clients in this nuanced area of law.
Thank you, Maggie, for sharing your stories and insights with our audience! If you happen to have any questions for Maggie or want to learn more about 7 Point Law and the work they do for the cannabis industry, you can seek more information or contact the firm here.