In the nine years since he began fighting for cannabis clients, he has become one of the nation’s leading legal advocates, with some of the biggest names in his dossier, including Bhang and Eureka Vapor.
Yet he’s rarely had to advertise the fact. You’ll have to dig deep in his website (winterllp.com) to even find a mention of cannabis. He earned his reputation the old-fashioned way—through word of mouth.
“Cannabis is too big to fail.”
“The proudest thing for me is that I [have] held [the trust of] some of the biggest cannabis companies in the world over the years, and they’ve continued to spread my name to other clients to call and retain us, which to me is the greatest compliment you can get,” said Winter, 47, of Costa Mesa, California.
From Corporate to Cannabis
Winter also took the circuitous route to becoming an attorney.
After working for seven years in sales and marketing, he decided to go to night school to earn his law degree. After a stint abroad he landed at a large company, Kittrich Corporation, overseeing real estate transactions, as well as patent and trademark filings.
However, it wasn’t the kind of work Winter had imagined doing, so he started his own firm. Around this time, in 2008, he began speaking with a guy he’d met at a coffee shop who just happened to grow cannabis.
These were days of uncertainty in California’s nascent medical cannabis industry, a time of police raids and threatening closure letters, when nobody knew what the federal government might do with the plant it had been fighting for 70 years. Many attorneys wouldn’t even touch these cases.
Winter decided his training and experience would be a good fit for the industry, so he took the guy on as a client. The next week, two more growers called. Then four. Then eight.
“There were just a handful of us [cannabis] attorneys at that time, and we really wrote the book for how things progressed for the next eight years,” said Winter.
“A lot of my colleagues almost looked down their noses at us, almost as if we were personal-injury, ambulance-chasing attorneys, and now everyone wants in.”
Trademarks, Banking and More
From the outset of his entry into the hazy world of cannabis law, Winter had a strong belief that trademarks and brands would be the future of the industry.
“I was one of the few, back in 2008, who was jumping up and down and telling clients the branding was going to be huge,” he said. In a crowded industry where everyone was basically selling the same base product—cannabis—those who could give consumers a brand to relate to would thrive.
“There were just a handful of us [cannabis] attorneys at that time, and we really wrote the book for how things progressed for the next eight years,”
Of course, you can’t trademark cannabis or cannabis-infused products, since they’re still federally illegal, so much of Winter’s work has involved trademarks on brands and accessories.
“One of the things we’ve pioneered . . . We call it the ‘circle the wagons approach,’ where you try to brand a significant amount of services surrounding the cannabis plant itself,” he said.
Winter sees plenty of complex issues on the horizon for cannabis, especially as California moves toward regulating what is projected to become the largest legal cannabis market in the world. The lack of banking, for one, remains a thorn in the industry’s side, and the jury is still out on what President Donald Trump’s administration may do about state-level legalization. For his part, he isn’t worried about a federal crackdown. “Cannabis is too big to fail,” he said.
He’s motivated in part by a love of the plant. A medium, 10mg dose is his preferred evening cool-down after a day fighting the good fight. “It completely changes my frame of mind and allows me to relax from the day, and it just changes everything,” Winter said. “Instead of being uptight and worrying about everything in the house, I get down on the floor and play with the kids. It’s an important component of my life.”
Another factor of motivation for Winter is loyalty to the clients, many of whom he’s had from the get-go. “I’m proud of the fact we still have most of the clients who have started with us,” he said.
“It was always about our clients. Our clients are some of the best human beings in the world. They genuinely care about the plant. They genuinely care about people and it’s been an absolutely amazing journey to be on with our clients over the past eight years, to watch them grow and succeed.”