Cannabis litigation is not for the faint of heart. The industry’s challenges can be unique, even in standard business areas like employment law, insurance claims, intellectual property, and contract disputes. Challenges become magnified in federal courts, where the Controlled Substances Act—under which cannabis remains an illegal substance—limits the types of cases that may be heard.
Litigation in state and local courts is equally difficult. Businesses face what the American Bar Association described as “a highly complex legal and regulatory landscape” with conflicting laws and nascent guidelines that vary across state lines.
For cannabis companies, the optimal approach is to build a solid legal foundation from the start, ensuring regulatory compliance while also developing and regularly reviewing safeguards to reduce the risk of legal liability in the future. Involving a cannabis-savvy attorney can pay dividends on this front.
But what happens if, despite your best efforts, a court battle becomes unavoidable? Finding a litigator with deep knowledge of cannabis law can make all the difference.
This list reflects many of the top United States-based litigators in the industry today. These attorneys have secured favorable court rulings, settlements, and arbitration outcomes for clients ranging from large multistate operators to scrappy startups and small family businesses. The lawyers on this list have proven themselves highly competent, knowledgeable, and tenacious when representing their clients in court, arbitration, or other legal dealings. All are experienced in cannabis-related litigation.
Licensed in Colorado
Practice areas: business and commercial litigation, intellectual property and trademark litigation, real estate litigation, white-collar criminal defense, employment and labor, general corporate advisement
Alma mater: University of Tennessee College of Law
Hard facts: Thornton is an experienced litigator with a practice focused on complex commercial litigation including intellectual property, business torts, cannabis law, real estate, and other business-related disputes. She has notched multiple recent wins for the firm’s hemp clients. Thornton also serves as outside general counsel for corporate clients. In July 2022, she was named an equity partner at Fortis Law.
Licensed in Illinois
Practice areas: licensing, real estate, regulatory compliance and defense, class action defense, financial services
Alma mater: Loyola University Chicago School of Law
Hard facts: In 2021, Dashevsky earned a spot on Law360’s highly competitive Rising Stars list based in part on her work representing would-be dispensary owners against the State of Illinois over the state’s licensing process. She is a sought-after resource for her knowledge of the rapidly evolving U.S. industry, particularly in Illinois and New York. In addition, Dashevsky is a frequent contributor to trade publications and a popular panelist and speaker at industry gatherings.
Licensed in New York, New Jersey
Practice areas: employment litigation and counseling, commercial litigation
Alma mater: Brooklyn Law School
Hard facts: As a partner at Harris St. Laurent & Wechsler, Dubatowka represents companies in court and during high-stakes Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services arbitration. She recently successfully second-chaired an arbitration case for a leading California testing lab, and she has secured millions of dollars in awards for clients in other cases. Dubatowka is known for listening and tailoring her approach to each client’s unique circumstances and her knowledge about entering business partnerships. She earned Super Lawyers’ Rising Star designation for 2017–2022.
Jennifer Briggs Fisher
Licensed in California
Practice areas: securities litigation, government investigations, business and commercial litigation, strategic business consultation, regulatory compliance
Alma mater: Boston College Law School
Hard facts: As co-chair of Goodwin’s cannabis practice, Fisher is known as the go-to legal advisor for everything from large MSOs to emerging startups. She has earned coveted spots in The National Law Journal’s Cannabis Law Trailblazers, The American Lawyer’s Trailblazers West, and Cannabis Law Report’s Global Top 200 Cannabis Lawyers. Fisher also recently was named Cannabis Lawyer of the Year by the Cannabis Dealmakers Summit and among The Daily Journal’s Top Women Lawyers in California for 2022.
Janet E. Jackim
Licensed in Arizona, Colorado
Practice areas: restructuring and workouts, mergers and acquisitions, commercial real estate
Alma mater: Loyola University Chicago School of Law
Hard facts: Jackim brings big-company business practices and legal skills to small and midsize businesses. In 2019, she wrote substantial portions of an amicus brief for the Arizona Supreme Court in the case State of Arizona v. Jones, successfully arguing that cannabis extracts and concentrates were protected under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Jackim holds an AV Preeminent® Rating from Martindale-Hubbell and has earned recognition as a Global Top Cannabis Lawyer (2022), Legal Leaders’ Woman Leader in the Law, (2021), and Real Estate Law’s The Best Lawyers in America® (2018–2019).
Kathleen M. Kline
Licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York
Practice areas: commercial litigation, contract law, securities and derivatives, financial services, professional liability
Alma mater: Columbia Law School
Hard facts: Kline litigates a broad range of commercial disputes, including claims against financial institutions, contract and fiduciary duty actions, securities class and derivative actions, and professional liability claims. As a member of Duane Morris’s Cannabis Industry Group, Kline possesses expertise in the cannabis-infused beverage marketplace across the country. In 2020, they co-authored a Law.com commentary about craft beer trends, “Hard, Hazy and Maybe Healthy—With a Chance of Liability and Litigation,” that reviewed labeling and marketing considerations for CBD- and THC-infused beverages.
Esther H. Lee
Licensed in Colorado
Practice areas: commercial litigation, construction, insurance
Alma mater: Creighton University School of Law
Hard facts: Lee’s experience spans all stages of litigation in state and federal courts, including appeals, arbitration, case management, and liability assessment. In 2021, she represented a member and shareholder of a cannabis company in obtaining a $100-million award, plus attorneys’ fees, in high-stakes “bet-the-company” litigation. She earned a spot on Best Lawyers’ Ones to Watch list for commercial litigation in Denver (2021–2023), and is a member of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity’s 2022 Class of Pathfinders.
Practice areas: litigation, corporate and transactional law, intellectual property, licensing, regulatory compliance
Alma mater: University of California Hastings College of the Law
Hard facts: One of the first cannabis and hemp business attorneys in California, Manzuri has successfully litigated large federal and state cases. She also has helped procure and maintain more than 200 commercial licenses and closed $25 million in transactions in the past year. Manzuri provides multistate representation of cannabis businesses throughout the U.S. and internationally for licensing, regulatory compliance, intellectual property, and corporate governance. She recently was named one of The Daily Journal’s Top Cannabis Lawyers (2022).
Allison B. Margolin
Licensed in California
Practice areas: business law, regulatory compliance, intellectual property, environment and land use, federal and state criminal defense
Alma mater: Harvard Law School
Hard facts: As “Los Angeles’s dopest attorney,” Margolin has earned a reputation for fiercely fighting on behalf of cannabis consumers and businesses as well as advocating for social-equity-focused regulations. Her recent work includes representing Hmong cannabis cultivators in a high-profile case concerning local water ordinances (Lo et al v. County of Siskiyou et al). Margolin holds a longstanding spot on Thomson Reuters’ Super Lawyers list (2018–2023) and was selected to the Rising Stars list in both 2010–2012 and 2015–2017.
Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish
Licensed in Oklahoma
Practice areas: business formation and licensing, compliance, regulation, M&A, administrative hearings and appeals
Alma mater: University of Oklahoma College of Law
Hard facts: Parrish possesses more than thirty years’ experience as a civil litigator, earning multiple accolades in the cannabis space. In 2019, she was named one of thirty Cannabis Trailblazers by The National Law Journal, the only Oklahoman to make the list. Other recognition includes Cannabis Law Report’s Global Top 200 Cannabis Lawyers (2021–2023) and The Journal Record’s Top Cannabis Business Law Firm in the State of Oklahoma for three years running. Parrish also received Martindale-Hubbel’s highest AV Preeminent® rating for peer and judicial review.
Licensed in Colorado, Texas
Practice areas: litigation, arbitration, administrative law, international transactions, licensing, regulatory compliance
Alma mater: University of Denver Sturm College of Law
Hard facts: Perez represents clients in state and local hearings, negotiating and resolving regulatory disciplinary actions as well as appealing and seeking judicial review of final agency actions. She has guided clients in multiple competitive and noncompetitive license application processes in Colorado, Ohio, Hawaii, California, Maryland, and Canada. In 2022, she was named one of Denver’s Top Lawyers by 5280 magazine, and she has been recognized as a Best Lawyers’ One to Watch since 2021. Perez became partner at Vicente Sederberg in January 2022.
Ruth A. Rauls
Licensed in New Jersey, New York
Practice areas: litigation, labor and employment law
Alma mater: Rutgers Law School
Hard facts: Rauls advises clients on workplace policies, practices, and procedures, including medical use and drug-testing policies. She serves on the executive committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association Cannabis Law Committee (2018–present) and as co-chair of the NJSBA Law Committee’s Labor and Employment Subcommittee (2021–present). Rauls recently was named one of NJBIZ’s 2022 Leaders in Law and has been recognized by Benchmark Litigation as a Labor & Employment Star and Future Star in 2022. She also earned a spot on the Executive Women of New Jersey’s 2022 Trailblazing Policy Makers List.
Licensed in California, Arizona
Practice areas: civil litigation, partnership disputes, contract issues, business law, construction law, trademarks, dispute resolution
Alma mater: University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law
Hard facts: Westphal represents a wide range of clients in retail, cultivation, manufacturing, and startups, successfully litigating all types of business disputes. Always up for a challenge, she has developed a specialty in obtaining injunctions for her clients in partnership disputes to prevent shareholders from being squeezed out or taken advantage of by their partners. While Westphal calls California home, she keeps her finger on the pulse of trends and emerging markets in other states as the industry continues to grow.