The state of Florida legalized medical cannabis for serious conditions in 2016. But in 2015, Florida lawyer Ian Christensen was already telling clients that marijuana was legal. Christensen advised clients that it was okay to grow their own marijuana, so long as it was for a medical reason. And he even opposed the then-ongoing effort to legalize medical cannabis because, in his view, it was already legal.
But earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Christensen caused serious harm to his clients on account of his erroneous legal advice. As a result, a federal judge ordered the former Florida lawyer to pay two of his clients $370,000 in damages after they were convicted for illegally cultivating and possessing marijuana. In court, Christensen didn’t even bother defending himself.
Florida Lawyer Told Clients It Was Legal to Grow Medical Marijuana
In March 2015, Florida police raided the home of Scott and Marsha Yandell, seizing nearly 50 marijuana plants the couple had been cultivating. The Yandells, both 45 at the time, faced multiple felony drug charges. But in court, the Yandells and their attorney Ian Christensen claimed that the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office had violated their rights. The Yandells said they were running a “testing facility” to grow medical cannabis for patients. And they and Christensen argued that they had the right to grow marijuana under both state and federal law.
Obviously, the Yandells and their lawyer were completely wrong about that. In 2015, Florida had only legalized CBD oil. In addition, a few major cities had passed partial decriminalization ordinances for simple possession. Still, home cultivation, especially of dozens of plants, was definitely illegal in 2015. But Christensen had managed to convince himself, and some of his clients, that growing weed for medical purposes was totally legal. It still isn’t, by the way, even though medical cannabis is now legal in the Sunshine State.
Lawyer Gave Out Phony Medical Cards and Grow Signs
It’s still unclear how Christensen arrived at the specious interpretation of Florida’s marijuana law that would allow people to grow cannabis legally. But according to numerous reports, Christensen was quite open about his unique view of the law. On his practice’s website—Christensen has since been disbarred—he wrote that “if a patient can prove to law enforcement that cannabis is the safest medication available to treat their diagnosed condition, they are NOT subject to arrest.”
Christensen even shared his view with the Florida Sheriff’s Association, writing them to tell them that medical marijuana was already legal. And for $800, Christensen sold his clients totally fake “official legal certifications” and grow signs they could place outside their home. In other words, Christensen charged his clients for materials with which they could publicly proclaim their involvement in highly illegal activity.
So, after they were convicted, the Yandells sued their attorney for damages. As a result of the marijuana conviction that ultimately stemmed from Christensen’s terrible legal council, Marsha Yandell lost her nursing license. The couple also lost their house.
But last week, a federal judge in Florida ruled in favor of the Yandells and ordered Christensen to pay them $370,000 in damages and lost wages. The documents Christensen had provided to the Yandells, and reportedly two other clients including an Iraq War contractor with PTSD, were found to be “legally meaningless,” according to the ruling.
“When you’re an attorney, you’re held to a higher standard,” said Andrew Bonderud, the lawyer who represented the Yandells in their lawsuit.