Lawyers of the Year 2019: Melissa Kuipers Blake

by Doug Chartier

A lot of lawyers find themselves practicing in an area they’d never have dreamed of being in when they first joined the bar. Case in point, Melissa Kuipers Blake: She and the people around her hardly predicted she’d make a career out of helping shape state and federal marijuana policy.

“My parents are Southern Baptists who still don’t quite understand that I’m actually making a living working in cannabis,” she said.

Kuipers Blake, who co-chairs Brownstein’s cannabis and industrial hemp practice group, calls cannabis “the most aggressive, exciting, dynamic practice area I’ve ever served in in politics.” She said marijuana is a “hugely important product to consumers” with growing voter support despite its federally illegal status. That tension fascinated her about cannabis policy when she first got involved in it seven years ago, and her marijuana business clients’ unique position imbues her practice with a sense of purpose.

“To have companies that are existing … throughout the country in fear of federal prosecution simply for going to work — that’s an energy I can get behind, to try and fix that for those individuals,” Kuipers Blake said, “and to say, ‘If you’re compliant with state law, you don’t deserve to be in fear of federal law or federal incarceration simply by following what the state law says.”

Kuipers Blake has worked in politics since she was a page for Charlie Crist, then a Florida Republican State Senator, more than 20 years ago. But government relations work takes on a different spin when it’s for a product wholly prohibited by the federal government and 11 states. Even as that latter number was ticking down years ago, many lawmakers still had walls up when Kuipers Blake approached them for support on pro-cannabis measures.

To read this and other complete articles featured in the Jan. 6, 2020 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.