Abrams finds niche in nascent cannabis law
By Paul Russell, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor
Toronto cannabis lawyer Whitney Abrams knows she is on the cutting edge of something big.
“When I first got into the industry, it was a brand new area of law,” says Abrams, an associate with Minden Gross LLP. “Knowing I was a part of something new was exciting. As the new legislation came out, it was up to me as a lawyer and advisor to my clients to navigate the new framework, and figure out the boundaries of what our clients can and cannot do.”
Since joining the firm in 2017, her primary focus has been working on the regulatory side of the cannabis industry, helping clients with various commercial and industry-focused agreements, as well as licensing, wholesale, supply and distribution issues.
“I know I’m lucky to have gotten in when I did, as this is something very unique, and the industry is still very small,” Abrams tells AdvocateDaily.com.
As a lawyer, she says she helps clients build their brand while complying with strict laws and regulations on a host of issues, such as the limits on promotion and advertising of cannabis.
“In such a highly regulated industry, options are very limited,” Abrams says. “I have to come up with creative solutions with my clients to ensure they are both compliant and meeting the client’s ultimate business plan.”
She says the legal challenges facing the industry are expanding beyond Canada as more cross-border work has started to pick up.
“We deal with things that are taken for granted in mainstream sectors,” Abrams says. “Even the little things that would otherwise be straightforward require careful navigation. Manoeuvring through the constantly evolving regulatory framework is why working as a lawyer in this industry is so rewarding. I get to problem-solve every day.”
Her career is evolving in sync with the success of the clients she deals with, she says.
“I really care about their business, because I feel like I’ve been there from the beginning, assisting in the growth of their businesses from the ground up,” Abrams says.
Her initial interest in law was sparked after watching the movie Legally Blonde as a child, and she declared to her parents afterwards that she would be a lawyer, just like its main character.
“Elle Woods aside, when I was in the process of obtaining my undergraduate degree and evaluating my career options, I started to gain a better understanding of legal work and I knew that it was the profession for me,” Abrams says.
She did her undergrad in media, information and technoculture at Western University, all the while planning to become an entertainment lawyer.
“That seemed like a natural evolution since I was so fascinated by the entertainment industry and social media, so it seemed a good fit.”
After being called to the bar in 2017, Abrams realized she enjoyed helping businesses, which she still does. She spent the first part of her career balancing her cannabis practice with a busy commercial litigation practice. As her cannabis practice has grown, she has become laser-focused on corporate-commercial work.
“This is where my real passion is,” Abrams says. “It is something new and exciting, and I have worked hard since before the birth of the recreational industry to hone my knowledge and become an expert in the space.”
Unlike other traditional industries, she says she has enjoyed the opportunity to observe the cannabis industry up close, and not from behind a desk.
“When you visit licensed producer facilities and observe the care and consideration for every step of the process, you see how impactful this plant is that is the centre of our industry,” Abrams says.
As cannabis increases in popularity in Canada, she says many legal firms are trying to corner a piece of that lucrative market.
“Everybody wants to be a cannabis lawyer, but firms such as Minden Gross have been there longer than others, and have more experience in the industry,” Abrams says.