Since jumping feet first into the cannabis industry in 2008, Robert Hoban has carved out a reputation as a legal maven. In many ways, his work has been instrumental in shaping the medicinal and recreational cannabis policy landscape here in the U.S. and abroad. From teaching cannabis policy at the University of Denver to serving as partner and co-chair of Clark Hill’s Cannabis Industry Group, it’s no wonder Forbes came knocking on his door, inviting him to contribute his perspective on cannabis’ changing place in a world that, even while welcoming, is strikingly unprepared to issue it an uncomplicated place in the mainstream.
The legal and cultural status of cannabis is a poignant, personal matter for Hoban. In 2005, when today’s significantly liberalized legal landscape was but a twinkle in the eye of cannabis enthusiasts, Hoban’s mother received a terminal cancer diagnosis. With chemo and opioids turning her waning days into a fog of discomfort, Hoban knew it was time to explore other options.
“I realized that without the pills, she doesn’t feel good. But she can’t take the pills, because they don’t make her feel good and her stomach can’t keep them down. I was no stranger to the cannabis plant, in terms of how it could affect your mindset and reduce nausea, so I started to look for ways that she could legally consume cannabis. And this was important: it had to be legal. She would not touch cannabis if it would save her life unless there was a legal way to do it,” he recalls.
As Hoban set out to connect with caregivers and providers who could help incorporate medicinal cannabis into his mother’s care routine, he saw that while people were passionate about cannabis’ medicinal potential, they often needed help organizing and legitimizing their cannabis outfits. “I started to work with some of those folks, helping them devise strategies, and the rest is history. They became some of the first dispensaries,” Hoban says.
Combating Cannabis Misinformation with Education – and Journalism
As Hoban stepped deeper into cannabis business law, an obvious throughline emerged. The swirl of cannabis misinformation, whether intentional or accidental, has a long history of frustrating the efforts of activists and would-be entrepreneurs. “We kept running into investors, clients, and governments who needed education,” Hoban says. “So when I began to teach and put out short papers online, people began to pay attention. People were hungry for information and guidance.”
Providing factual accounts of legal issues and outcomes is an important aspect of Hoban’s work. Writing for Forbes, he says, is an opportunity to “set the record straight about what’s happening in real time, because there are so many fractured voices in the space that are not always based in reality.” He’s also passionate about advancing Clark Hill’s role in cannabis thought leadership since he understands that his effectiveness as a corporate lawyer will only be as strong as his understanding of the sprawling, complicated industry he supports.
When he learned about the UVM PACE Professional Certificate in Cannabis Plant Biology, he was intrigued by the opportunity to deepen his botany knowledge. “I deal with people all across the cannabis spectrum,” he explains, “but I only knew botany on a surface level. Given the opportunity to do a deep dive, I had to take the opportunity to learn about various parts of the plant that all of my clients know so well and I hear about so often.” Hoban joined the 8-week online course through UVM’s Cannabis Media Fellowship program in March 2022.
Trained as an attorney to be “efficient with [my] time,” Hoban says that he fared quite well while balancing a demanding professional schedule, frequent travel, and coursework. The flexibility of online learning, with the ability to pop onto Zoom sessions at the airport or in between client meetings, was a recipe for success, allowing Hoban to stay balanced. The final weeks of the program, when he was immersed in his capstone research project, is perhaps one exception where he felt crunched for time. “The project did require me to put hours aside at the end of the course. Putting the work in to develop the finished piece took time. But at the end of the day, the program seamlessly jived with my schedule.”
Another aspect of UVM’s Cannabis education that stands out to Hoban is its clarity of purpose. While recalling the regional diversity of his instructors and guest lecturers, he makes a point to acknowledge Vermont’s uniquely progressive place in cannabis culture. A state that has long been viewed as a cannabis-friendly haven, Hoban says this openarmedness translated into the program’s character and content.
“Many other places in the world don’t have that experience, that history and appreciation of the plant, and so their programs don’t deliver the impact that they could deliver. It’s like someone teaching you how to play basketball when they’ve never played basketball before,” he says. “We saw a wide range in the UVM cannabis course from all over the country and all over the world when you include the scientific perspective about this plant and this industry; so they [UVM], got it.”