Chris McElwain, Attorney
Tell us about Knowmad Law?
"I’m the founder and principal attorney of Knowmad Law, a boutique legal practice focused on intellectual property, media, and general business law. I help start-ups, small businesses, and creative professionals with trademark protection, contract preparation, regulatory compliance, and a variety of other legal concerns."
What was your very first introduction to the cannabis industry?
"Around 2011, shortly after graduating law school at USC, I found myself reading a book about Prohibition, and there was a chapter about the fate of major liquor brands like DeWar’s and Jack Daniels during the bootlegging era. I was struck by the analogy to the emerging cannabis industry and realized that, when cannabis prohibition inevitably ended, there was an opportunity to use trademark law to help the industry bolster consumer confidence and encourage investment in safety, quality, and sustainability. Years later, when I started my own practice, cannabis businesses were some of the first clients I turned to."
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you’ve been in the industry?
"It’s important to stay on your toes. What was true one week might not be true the next. Both the legal and commercial realities of the industry change so quickly that keeping informed is crucial."
What has been your biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
"Leaving the comfort of a bigger firm to start my own practice was definitely a leap of faith, but I haven’t looked back. I love being able to chart my own course and having the flexibility to work with clients I might not otherwise get the chance to work with."
How would you describe the cannabis industry in Monterey County?
"Very promising. With the area’s deep-rooted agricultural know-how and infrastructure and ready access to both the Northern and Southern California markets, I don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t be the capital of the U.S. cannabis industry."
From your experience, are there similar traits that those working in the cannabis industry share?
"I love working with cannabis folks. By virtue of the nature of the goods, the industry tends to attract creative, independent types with healthy appetites for risk-taking. The energy is infectious."
How do you think people in the cannabis industry should think about the value of marketing and where should they focus their marketing budget?
"Brand awareness. We’ve gone from a market where everything was essentially generic and anonymous just a short time ago to a confusing excess of brands. I have to think that in the next few years, the market will consolidate around a handful of well-known names, and those names are going to be some of the most valuable assets emerge out of this to green rush."