Celebrating 20 years with Wilson Elser this month, Stewart has carved out a niche in cannabis and how it affects product and general liability, intellectual property, and data privacy matters. Learn more about his work and how COVID-19 is affecting the industry.
Crunch Time for Cannabis
As co-chair of his firm’s cannabis law practice, Stewart keeps his thumb on emerging risks to this new industry. These days, he says COVID-19 poses an existential threat for dispensaries, which already face expensive compliance costs, heavy tax burdens, and lack of loans and financing that other companies can utilize to carry them through tough times, but dispensaries cannot.
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“Are hospitals covered when they make decisions about rationing care?”-Stewart, explaining one of the coverage questions his firm’s COVID-19 taskforce of 50-60 attorneys are wrestling with in regard to the pandemic response.
Essential Is Critical
As more states implement shelter-in-place restrictions, Stewart argues that access to cannabis should be listed as an essential service, and that dispensaries should be treated the same as pharmacies and remain open during such government orders. Although several states have done just that, he still expects D&O lawsuits and other business litigation to ensue as financial stress bears down on the industry.
“Insurance companies are hunkering down and looking at the spread of COVID-19 as an event that is probably going to be worse than the 2008 Great Recession.”-Stewart, explaining his views on industry concerns about claims related to the pandemic.
Making the Case
Stewart says insurers must be cautious about social inflation, but argues that the only way to stop the overvaluing of settlements—which he says is driving indemnity payments higher just as much as verdicts are—is to hold firm and try cases in appropriate jurisdictions. By not doing so, he says insurers will see the value of those settlements continue to go up.
“Never sugarcoat bad news.”-Stewart, on the best advice he has ever received from a mentor when dealing with clients. He reminds his associates of it on a regular basis.