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Breaking the Ice: Addressing challenges under cannabis law

Todd Nelson//June 29, 2023

Gerry Fornwald

Winthrop & Weinstine shareholder Gerry Fornwald sees “tons of interest” in cannabis-related ventures. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Addressing challenges under cannabis law

Todd Nelson//June 29, 2023

Winthrop & Weinstine shareholder Gerry Fornwald is looking forward to many firsts with Minnesota’s legalization of recreational cannabis.

Fornwald, who works with a group that helped shape the state law, is looking forward to helping new cannabis-related businesses form, arrange financing, apply for licenses and navigate regulations including residency restrictions.

“This is the kind of thing that lawyers dream of,” Fornwald said. “It’s an industry that is sprouting out of nothing, and we get to be part of the fun of it from the start.”

Those businesses, however, will face banking and tax challenges, Fornwald said. Federal law prohibits manufacture, distribution dispensation and possession of marijuana outside of approved research facilities.

Clients trying to hire industry consultants, for example, have had banks refuse to accept wire transfers for payment.

Still, Fornwald sees “tons of interest” in cannabis-related ventures.

“Plenty of businesses can thrive in a state-specific market,” he said. “You don’t have to be a national business owner to be successful.”

Name: Gerry Fornwald

Title: Shareholder, Winthrop & Weinstine

Education: B.A., finance, Creighton University College of Business; J.D., University of St. Thomas School of Law

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: If you were to mention anything about national parks or 1980s baseball, you’re probably going to have trouble getting out of the conversation.

Q: Why law school?

A: I ultimately trace my decision to go to law school to a handwritten note on a card catalog card from a public library. My wife and I were teaching in the Dominican Republic. The job was coming to an end. A good friend of mine ran into my mother at the public library. He wrote a note on the card catalog of card saying I should consider going to the University of St. Thomas School of Law for my next chapter of life. It was persuasive. I came; he didn’t. The rest is history.

Q: What are you reading?

A: I only read fiction, so there’s a pretty safe bet you’re going to find something along the lines of Gabriel García Márquez or Isabel Allende. Some sort of dreamy Chicano literature takes me away from reality.

Q: Pet peeve?

A: Any time I see a driver with a phone in their hands.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: Every client is unique. Every need is unique. Every problem is unique. There are not repeatable issues in this job, and it keeps you on your toes.

Q: Most challenging?

A: Never being able to unplug for an extended period of time.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: I absolutely love casual bike rides. Nothing competitive, nothing hardcore. Just seeing the city up close and personal on two wheels is one of my favorite things. I am a soccer coach for my kids, and I absolutely live for that. It is truly the best part of my life.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: I grew up in Sturgis, South Dakota. There’s not a lot to do or see in Sturgis, so the first thing we would do is leave town. Fortunately, the Black Hills surround Sturgis, and they’re always beautiful. We would probably go to Custer State Park, do a day of hiking and swim in Sylvan Lake.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: I’ve worked with so many great people in nearly 20 years here at Winthrop and wouldn’t be able to pick just one. So, I decided to go with Johnnie Cochran because I just still can’t get that rhyme out of my head, 30 years later.

Q: Misconception that others have about your work?

A: That because you’re a lawyer, you can answer any question about the law on the spot. The reality is, if something is outside of your immediate frame of reference, it’s always a research issue.

Q: Favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers?

A: I grew up loving “Matlock.” Ben could stick it to you and you’d be taken away in handcuffs, and you would still think he was your best friend.

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