Cannabis law expert helps clients chart legal course through new landscape

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by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Marijuana is a hot topic on the Nov. 6 ballot—and one with particular interest for Charles Murphy, Of Counsel at Clark Hill’s Birmingham office, who has a substantial medical marijuana practice. He works to help businesses structure their companies, manage licensing, and navigate regulatory policies.

“Voters in some states are driving the liberalization of cannabis law through initiatives with rigorous regulatory best practices,” he says. “This November, Michigan and North Dakota have adult legalization measures on the ballot, Utah and Missouri have medical marijuana measures on the ballot, and Colorado has an amendment to its constitution relating to industrial hemp on the ballot.

“As more states permit either medical marijuana or adult use and the industry matures and scales up, pressure to change federal laws regarding banking, deduction of ordinary business expenses and de-scheduling marijuana will increase.” 

The ballot proposal, the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act, would legalize possession, use, cultivation and sale of marijuana and industrial hemp for people 21 plus.

“Adult-use legalization in Michigan would expand the potential market from 270,000 registered patients to about 6.9 million adults, over twice the size of the Colorado market,” Murphy notes. “Municipalities have discretion to approve any number of licenses or may completely prohibit or limit the number of cannabis establishments.

New types of licenses would be allowed, he adds, including a microbusiness license—where people can grow up to 150 plants, process the plant and sell the marijuana at that location; licenses that allow for sale and consumption in designated areas accessible only by people over 21 years of age (marijuana cafes), or for special events for a limited time, such as concerts and festivals.

“The ballot measure has a specific preference for 24 months for existing licensees under the Facilities Licensing Act, initially precluding persons not so licensed from the adult-use market initially,” he explains. “There are numerous other changes in the proposal if voters approve this measure.”

Murphy, who has represented several cannabis industry entrepreneurs, met several more who became clients while he was running in 2016 for Oakland Community College trustee. His practice grew with the interest generated by the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (FLA) that year.

He obtained a mandamus order compelling the City of Detroit to place a voter initiative for Detroit to opt in to the FLA on the Nov. 2016 ballot after the Election Commission declined to do so; and he defended the voter initiative after it passed from several challenges. 

“Judge Robert Colombo dismissed two sets of plaintiffs for lack of standing leaving the City as sole plaintiff, struck the zoning portion of the initiative, and upheld the regulatory and licensing portion, which resulted in Detroit opting in. The case is on appeal,” he says. 

Murphy sued the City of Troy on behalf of three sets of plaintiffs to strike down a Medical Marihuana Grow Operation License Ordinance which conflicts with and is preempted by the FLA and adversely impacted 78 previously licensed caregiver growers. He also brought challenges against several cities over the process of awarding municipal medical marijuana licenses.

Murphy, who had a deep interest in history and political science as an undergraduate at Wayne State University, originally set his sights on a career as a history professor. But since the market was tight at graduation, while driving a taxi in Detroit he made the decision to return to WSU for law school.

It’s been an interesting career for Murphy, with a myriad of fascinating cases. One of his more interesting trials was the Delphi-SEC securities litigation before U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn, in which Murphy defended Delphi’s Director of Capital Planning in the SEC enforcement action against Delphi and its former officers and related securities matters.

“I represented a Delphi treasury officer and after many years and 6 weeks of jury trial we obtained a favorable settlement with the SEC,” he says. “I tried my first federal trial, a sex harassment case, as a young attorney before Judge Cohn. Each day in his courtroom is a challenge and an education.”

In another case, Motown singer Martha Reeves noticed her songs were in the soundtrack of The Big Chill and Good Morn-ing Vietnam, but not on her royalty statements. “The Big Chill soundtrack was the number one soundtrack that year,” Murphy says. “We sued Motown Records and quickly reached a settlement.”

Murphy obtained an injunction and damages for famed sportscaster Ernie Harwell when some vendors were using his name and image on products without Harwell’s permission.     

A Detroit native, Murphy makes his home in Bloomfield Hills, with his wife Lori. The couple has three adult children: Andrew, Bridget and Caroline.

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