A profile in courage: A legal practice born out of MMJ

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By Helen Holzer, MMAA Editor

Dina Rollman is a woman on a mission … a medical marijuana mission. The Chicago attorney previously practiced commercial litigation from 2000 to 2014. Formerly a partner with Sperling & Slater, she opened Rollman Law Group – her own cannabis practice – on March 1, 2015.

Since then, she was joined by Bryna Dahlin, general counsel for CannaRegs in Denver, a web-based subscription service that provides enhanced access to cannabis rules and regulations. Their firm is now called Rollman & Dahlin.

She also acts as the chief compliance officer for GTI-Clinic Illinois Holdings, LLC, which operates two medical cannabis cultivation centers and a dispensary in Mundelein, Illinois. “Through that role I have become very familiar with all of the rules and regulations that have to be followed in order to stay in compliance.”

Raised in Chicago, Rollman was “amazed” that Illinois would be one of the states trying to make medical marijuana legal. She got interested in all the legal issues that would result due to the program, and was determined to become informed on all the issues. When the state bill went into effect Jan. 1, 2014, she read it and realized that it would open up doors to a brand new field of law.

From her first introduction to the medical marijuana bill, Rollman foresaw the field would generate a vast need for legal advice, helping operators and businesses, schools, employers and others impacted by the law.

Another thing was made clear: “You really have to become familiar with each state’s laws and regulations.” In fact, a lawyer could assist a client in an action that’s legal in Illinois, but could violate other state or federal laws.

Does she have any personal reasons for working in the cannabis industry?

“My father has two qualifying conditions and needs it, but hasn’t been able to find a certifying doctor to get it yet.”

Married with two children, Rollman graduated from Oberlin College and Northwestern University School of Law. She hadn’t even considered studying law until after college.

She’s found that activism is the name of the game. Rollman started up the nonprofit group Illinois Women in Cannabis (IWC). “I spent a lot of time in Denver last year. They’re further along, and we’re at square one. I just wanted to make sure that women would be in leadership positions here and not have to play catch up. We’re excited because we’ve seen IWC’s membership increase every month.”

She stated: “We’ve had several quarterly networking events. Our last event in October sold out with over 150 men and women in attendance. We got great feedback about our speaker – Joseph Wright, the director of the Medical Cannabis Program – and had the opportunity to interact with him and ask him questions. We also had great feedback about the connections that people made. These are very professional events, with the mix of attendees including cultivation and dispensary license holders, accountants, attorneys, bankers, patient advocates, physicians and testing lab technicians. Our events kill the Cheech and Chong stereotypes.”

Rollman is looking forward to IWC’s next event on Feb. 24, where the featured speaker will be Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, the chair of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, which hears petitions for adding qualifying conditions to the program.

Rollman is also a founding member of the Illinois Cannabis Bar Association, a newly formed group of Illinois attorneys who are doing legal work related to medical cannabis. “I wanted to bring together all of the attorneys who are confronting these legal issues for the first time, so we can create a collaborative and cooperative legal community that is a resource for each other and that works together to make the Illinois program the best that it can be.” She said the group is planning educational events for physicians and hospital attorneys, as well as other ways to use their legal experience to help the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Programs (MCPP) succeed.

She also serves as a board member of the Illinois Cannabis Industry Association (ILCIA), which is the Illinois affiliate of the National Cannabis Industry Association, the leading national trade organization for the cannabis industry. “We are planning educational events for the operators of cultivation centers and dispensaries, planning lobby days in Springfield, and working on proposed rule changes, among other things, to fulfill our mission of fostering a professional and successful medical cannabis industry.”

So what needs to happen to keep the state’s four-year pilot program go past 2018?

“It will as long as things go on the path they’re on,” Rollman answered.  “It should eventually be a no-brainer to make it permanent!”

She emphasized, “Patients can now go to dispensaries and get their medicine. We’ve been hearing from a lot of happy patients. Obviously there are the problems of a growing industry with logistics. But things are going quite smoothly. The tax revenue, job creation and investment in our state through the construction of these facilities are a huge positive for Illinois.”

Rollman added, “They [legislators] were never public about their money expectations. For our cash-strapped state, it is a nice source of revenue. The state has collected millions of dollars in registration fees from the licensees to fund the program. Taxpayer dollars are not being used to fund the program, yet taxpayers are getting the benefit of the revenues and jobs coming in.”

Words of advice: “Everybody should be thinking in terms of long-term. It’s best for everybody if everyone thinks in terms of looking at the long haul rather than trying to make a quick dollar. The more responsible the industry we operate, the better chance we have of seeing this program be permanent.”

What has her first year in business been like?

“It’s been busy, seeing a brand new industry arrive in Illinois where every issue that crops up is being addressed for the first time by the operator and the regulators. There’s never a dull moment!”