UC Hastings Gets in the Weeds with Cannabis Law Course

Professors discuss property, contracts and trademark law issues complicated by the ongoing conflict between federal and state law regarding marijuana in the law school's first-ever cannabis law course.

Though Alexis Lazzeri entered UC Hastings Law with an interest in the burgeoning cannabis industry, she didn’t think there were many opportunities for lawyers to work in the field and decided to instead explore other potential career paths.

But Lazzeri says attending the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Cannabis Conference last fall opened her eyes to the variety of roles attorneys can play in the sector and sparked a strong desire to pursue a legal career in the industry.

This revelation made her even more eager to take UC Hastings Law’s first-ever Cannabis Law course this spring to help grow her knowledge of the topic.

“It really was perfect timing,” Lazzeri said. “I was really excited.”

She and other students enrolled in the course taught by adjunct professors Henry Wykowski and Christopher Wood say it’s exceeded expectations so far.

They have learned about the social and legal history of cannabis in California and nationwide, including the legalization of adult use in the Golden State that became effective at the start of 2018.

The professors have also gone over property, contracts and trademark law issues complicated by the ongoing conflict between federal and state law regarding marijuana.

Vishaal Lalchand, 2L, said the course has been one of the most practical he has taken in law school. He particularly enjoyed the class that focused on the myriad regulations enacted in California governing recreational use.

“I feel like I was learning a skill that I can go to a client with and use to help the client,” Lalchand said. “I don’t feel like I’m just sitting in a law school class and learning about cases from 100 years ago that aren’t as practical.”

When Wykowski and Wood do go over key cannabis cases, they are often ones they litigated in recent years.

Wykowski is the founder of Wykowski Law in San Francisco and one of the best-known cannabis attorneys in the country. He serves as general counsel of the National Cannabis Industry Association and the California Cannabis Industry Association.

Wood, a 2012 UC Hastings graduate, is a principal at Wykowski Law. He credited professors he had at UC Hastings with encouraging him to put the course proposal forward.

Wood and Wykowski said one of their goals in teaching the course has been to give the 24 students an appreciation for the complexity of cannabis law and to make clear it encompasses far more than just defending dispensaries.

“I try when possible to give the students’ insight into what is actually happening in cannabis mergers and acquisitions, which is a very hot field right now and one that people are pouring billions of dollars into,” said Wood, who handles the firm’s corporate work.

The professors have also highlighted the wide array of legal work available in the industry through bringing in guest lecturers.

Lazzeri and Lalchand both said they loved hearing from Shabnam Malek and Amanda Conley, lawyers at Brand & Branch LLP, an Oakland law firm specializing in cannabis intellectual property.

The students also enjoyed looking at old edibles packaging during a class covering the labeling and advertising regulations promulgated by the state.

Wood said he and Wykowski have worked to make the class as fun as possible, including through Wood’s use of “Game of Thrones” puns.

But Wykowski stressed that cannabis is a serious area of the law, and he hopes the class encourages those seeking to follow in he and Wood’s footsteps.

“We were one of the original law firms in the country to dedicate our practice to cannabis, and we want to teach the people who will take our places when we move on,” Wykowski said.

Students said the course has made them feel more confident about getting jobs in the industry after graduation.

Not only have they built their knowledge about cannabis law, but they have also made new connections they hope will be beneficial.

“I wasn’t very aware of the networking opportunities,” Lalchand said. “They have really brought those to light.”

He wants to assist cannabis businesses with licensing agreements and commercial contracts.

As for Lazzeri, she says any doubts she harbored about whether she could find work as a cannabis lawyer have evaporated.

“I foresee myself working with cannabis companies doing corporate formations and contract writing, which I’m excited about,” she said.