Irina Dashevsky (JD ’09) makes a name for herself in the “cannabiz”
Last year, Irina Dashevsky (JD ’09) represented entertainment mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs and his company Combs Enterprises in his $185 million purchase of licensed cannabis operations in New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Dashevsky, partner and co-chair of the cannabis group at Greenspoon Marder, provided regulatory counsel in the deal, which was hailed in the business press as a historic moment for the cannabis industry.
Dashevsky remembers a time—just a few years ago, in fact—when such high-profile celebrity acquisitions would have seemed unlikely.
“We have seen a remarkable normalization and acceptance of cannabis” in recent years, Dashevsky says. “Cannabiz” is now heralded as one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. and a space bursting with potential. The legal cannabis market in the U.S. was valued at $13.2 billion in 2022, according to marketing data firm Grand View Research, and industry observer New Frontier Data estimates that sales could top $72 billion by 2030.
But when Dashevsky made her first foray into cannabis law, she did so in part because others would not.
Her entry into the field grew out of conversations she had in 2018 with the proprietor of a multistate cannabis operation when she was an associate at Locke Lord. The dizzying variety of cannabis regulations from state to state required the business owner to engage a number of small law firms in various markets, a strategy that was proving costly, confusing, and difficult to manage.
What was needed, the business owner told Dashevsky, was one-stop legal shopping at a single larger firm that could offer a presence in many key markets.
Great idea, but there was a problem.
“At that time, most big law firms would not touch cannabis,” Dashevsky says.
For Dashevsky, however, the timing could not have been better. She was growing frustrated with her dependence on her firm’s partners for new work. In contrast, cannabis seemed to be something of a new legal frontier with unique challenges and untapped opportunities awaiting those who dared to take them on.
“I saw cannabis as a field that was not already totally carved up,” she says. She pitched the idea of creating cannabis practice to decision-makers at Locke Lord. “They surveyed the risk and determined that it was an area where they could help,” she says.
The cannabis group Dashevsky created at Locke Lord followed her to Greenspoon Marder in 2021. Dashevsky’s team made an immediate and high-profile impact representing a group of Illinois recreational cannabis license applicants challenging the state’s licensing process in the courts. Dashevsky argued that the state’s competitive scoring system unconstitutionally favored applicant groups with majority ownership by military veterans at the expense of applications from social equity ownership groups—groups with majority ownership from the Black and Latino communities historically harmed by disproportionate enforcement of drug laws. The litigation eventually produced an overhaul of the state’s license application process that improved the chances for success of social equity group applications.
“I saw cannabis as a field that was not already totally carved up.”
Dashevsky also lobbied on Capitol Hill to build support in Congress for SAFE Banking, an act that would protect banks from regulatory intervention if they provide financial services to state-licensed cannabis businesses in states where weed has been legalized. (The risk of sanction from federal regulators has made most banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.) She calls her lobbying in Washington “the coolest professional experience of my life.”
Dashevsky’s work has made her a sought-after expert commentator on cannabis-related news and has earned her recognition from industry publications like Law360, which named her one of its Rising Stars; the National Law Journal, which named her as a Cannabis Law Trailblazer; and Crain’s Chicago Business, which named her among its Notable Women in Law.
Her swerve into the uncharted territory of cannabis law seems to have worked out for her, for her employers, and for her clients.
“It was a risky move that paid off,” says Dashevsky. –Andrew Santella (July 2023)