The Lawyer: Melissa Waite

Melissa Waite, Jolley Urga Woodbury & Little

Melissa WaitePeter Harasty

Melissa Waite

The cannabis industry is rife with legal intricacies. Corporate law, real estate transactions and government regulation all play a role—and that’s just the beginning. Lawyer Melissa Waite received an MBA and a law degree from UNLV, both of which helped prepare her for the complexities of medical marijuana law in Nevada. She has “learned the artful dance of doing business as a cannabis operator in Nevada,” but a fast-evolving industry also has fast-evolving regulations.

Medical marijuana regulations may have something in common with other parts of the law, but it’s a unique field. … I think it was a natural fit from the work that my firm had done over the course of many, many years with other related industries—gaming and liquor licensing and those industries are very heavily regulated. Many of the same type of issues are presented in terms of the zoning, in terms of political pressure, in terms of having a suitable individual operating the business. The aspect of medical marijuana that’s unique is the competition—there’s a limited number of those licenses, unlike liquor and gaming where, technically, if you can find a location and meet the qualifications, you’re going to get licensed.

The most difficult legal hurdle that these groups face is navigating the process of licensure and then compliance. It’s unique and it’s one of those areas that we all just started learning in the last few years. In other areas of law, we’ve had a long history of compliance and a long history of interpretation of the rules governing these businesses. But medical marijuana businesses are subject to these new regulations, new laws that are still changing and are still being interpreted differently.

Working in a field where the rules and regulations are still taking shape has its challenges.This is an area that I really enjoy and I keep as up to date as much as possible as things change. … It’s not often in an attorney’s career where you see a whole new area of law come up. A lot of the issues that we deal with on a day-to-day basis are the same legal issues that everybody has been trying to tackle whether they’re related to business, criminal, civil or personal matters. But this is sort of the creation of a new segment of law that has its own governing structure, and I do think it’s created a unique opportunity for specialization for attorneys.

A lot of the cautiousness around the cannabis industry is due to the issues we see at the federal level. Once there’s a reconciliation of the federal and the state law, I think we’ll be much more likely to see law schools and state bar associations and serious legal resources for attorneys becoming more accepting of that area of law—teaching it and specializing in it. But currently, with funding and with donors and with other considerations … it’s just a little bit risky at this point.