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If you’re going to hire a lawyer to give you advice about how to grow legal cannabis in your state, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that cannabis is actually legal in your state.
For Florida couple Scott and Marsha Yandell, that lesson came the hard way in 2015. Their attorney, Ian Christensen, assured them that they could legally grow and consume cannabis for medicinal purposes, even though Florida had not yet legalized medical marijuana in any form or fashion. To back up his bogus claims, Christensen printed fake medical marijuana certificates and grow house signage.
According to the Florida Times-Union, the Yandells’ house was eventually raided, and the couple was arrested for their suburban grow operation. With no excuse for their clearly illegal grow, both Scott and Marsha pled guilty, avoiding jail time but facing fines of $15,000, 100 hours of community service, and three years probation. In addition to the criminal prosecution, Marsha lost her career as a nurse.
The Yendells eventually filed a lawsuit against the crooked attorney. Now, nearly five years after their arrest, the couple has been awarded a $370,000 restitution from Christensen, who has since been stripped of his law license. In their ruling, the Florida Supreme Court called Christensen’s actions “incompetence and [the cause of] extremely serious harm.”
“I think this is a case that’s obvious to most people that when you do bad things there are consequences for them,” Andrew Bonderud, the Yandells’ lawyer in the lawsuit, told the Times-Union. “When you’re an attorney, you’re held to a higher standard... Attorneys need to have great care when they’re advising clients.”
In the time since Christensen first fabricated a Florida medical marijuana program, the Sunshine State has legalized the plant for medical purposes. Still, Florida MMJ patients are not yet able to grow their own weed, and must shop at state-licensed dispensaries to access the plant. As cannabis law reform continues to spread across the country, though, Florida legislators and activists are finally pushing to fully legalize as soon as next year.
And while both Marsha and Scott Yandell are now off of probation and free from 2015’s law enforcement debacle, they say the next step will be figuring out how to actually get their money from Christensen, who is claiming to be broke.
“Obviously the challenge at this point is going to be collecting on [the judgment],” Bonderud said. ”...It appears to me that he is not going to voluntarily pay anything, so it will be incumbent upon us to discover assets or discover income sources and to go after them. That’s what we’re going to do for as long as the judgment is valid.”
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