The lawyer told his clients that they could legally grow medical marijuana in 2015 even though it would not be legal in the state until 2016.
Ian Christensen, a lawyer based in Jacksonville, Florida, was ordered to pay former clients nearly $370,000 for telling them that they were legally allowed to grow cannabis in their homes.
Christensen reportedly told his clients in 2015 that medical marijuana was legal and even provided them with cards that stated they were allowed to use it for medicinal purposes and a yard sign that announced that their homes were being used to grow cannabis.
The problem was that Florida Amendment 2, which legalized marijuana for medicinal use, was a year away from passage at the time Christensen gave his clients the go-ahead.
Two such individuals, Scott and Marsha Yandell, were arrested in 2016 for growing marijuana in their home, and subsequently lost their jobs. They sued Christensen in 2016 for lost wages due to their convictions, and won their case in July 2019. Christensen, who also lost his law license, offered no defense, according to court documents.
According to the Florida Times-Union, Christensen told clients in 2015 that they would not face law enforcement intervention for using or growing medicinal marijuana. A statement on his website explained his position by claiming, “If a patient can prove to a law enforcement officer that cannabis is the safest medication available to treat a diagnosed condition, they are NOT subject to arrest.”
He also sent a letter to the Florida Sheriff’s Association that outlined his position.
For $800, Christensen would reportedly even provide clients with cards that appeared to give them the right to use cannabis for medicinal purposes, as well as “grow signs” that informed their neighborhoods that their home was being used to cultivate cannabis.
The Yandells discovered in 2015 that the card’s claim of “official legal certification” was invalid when police were dispatched to their home by a 911 caller who had seen the “grow sign” outside their home. When asked if they were in any legal jeopardy, Christensen reportedly told the couple that they were within their rights to grow cannabis.
One month later, they discovered this to be untrue when a SWAT team raided their home and arrested the Yandells on charges of possession and trafficking of cannabis in excess of 25 pounds, among other charges.
The Yandells pled guilty to the charges and accepted three years’ probation as well as a $15,000 fine and 100 hours of community services. They were also sued by their landlord for $25,000 in lost rent and damages to the couple’s home during the raid, and both Scott and Marsha lost their respective jobs as an engineer and nurse—work they had both held for more than a decade.
The couple sued Christensen in 2016 for lost wages due to their arrests. Court documents showed that Christensen claimed that his decision was based on being “inexperienced, young and naïve” in regard to marijuana-related issues.
He stopped practicing law in 2015 and lost his license in early 2019. A judge handed down the decision regarding the lost wages in late July 2019.
According to the Yandells’ new lawyer, Andrew Bonderud, Christensen has shown no indication of voluntarily paying the fee, and no longer lives in Florida. “It will be incumbent upon us to discover assets or discover income sources and to go after them,” he said.