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How the personal became political (and big business) for Rod Kight

Published in 2018 North Carolina Super Lawyers magazine

Rod Kight wouldn’t call 2009 a good year. He was going through a divorce when, in July, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

The cancer was caught soon enough that with surgery, chemotherapy and frequent checkups, he would survive. 

“Chemotherapy makes you feel like you have the flu. You’re nauseated. You’re achy,” Kight says. He remembers one time his brother came over. “He looked at me like, ‘Hey, man. How are you? Can I do anything?’ He didn’t know what to do. So he went downstairs and fired up a joint.”

Kight had nothing to lose. “I took a toke,” he says. “Within three minutes, the nausea was gone. I ate two big helpings of Indian food, hung out, and had a great night.”

He continued to use marijuana to alleviate chemo’s side effects. “It opened the eyes of a lot of people,” he says. “My parents are conservative Southerners, and they’re huge advocates for medical marijuana now.”

The experience also changed the way the bankruptcy lawyer presented himself at work. Largely a sole practitioner, he wore suits to appear like a big-firm lawyer. But while working during chemo, he says, “I would creep into the office in shorts and Tevas. Once I was in remission, I changed to a much more relaxed personal style: a polo; a button-up with jeans.”

But the biggest change? He became North Carolina’s biggest cannabis advocate.

He initially didn’t know in which direction to go, until marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington in 2012. “So I thought, ‘I’ll buy a book and figure out how to do cannabis business law,’” he says. “Except there weren’t any books.” 

Around that time, the publisher for whom he’d written books on bankruptcy law asked Kight to write another. Instead, he pitched one on cannabis law. While writing that book, which was published in August 2015, he debuted a cannabis law blog. “‘High as a Kight’ was the original title until we decided that ‘Kight on Cannabis’ was probably better,” he says. His first cannabis client came that fall. 

Cannabis law now takes up more than half of Kight’s practice. It’s tricky, though: Despite state gains in legalizing pot and medical marijuana, it’s still illegal federally. 

A large part of Kight’s practice involves industrial hemp, which is federally legal, and with pilot growing programs being enacted in many states—including North Carolina—is fostering business.

His practice also involves cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating extract. “The law regarding the circumstances under which CBD is legal is complicated,” he says. “A lot of what I do is consult with businesses that produce CBD and non-THC cannabis tinctures and vapes and help them to stay on the right side of the law.”

Having spent time cultivating his professional reputation, Kight was nervous “coming out” about marijuana. But he says he’s blown away by how receptive people have been. 

As for his five kids? “I parent them by giving them accurate information,” he says. “There are some studies that have shown smoking marijuana at an early age could cause issues with growth and development. By the same token, when it’s legal, it can be very helpful from a medical standpoint.”

Marijuana is now legal in eight states, and the medical variety in more than 25. Does Kight see a time when it might be legal across the country? “Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see a hodgepodge of state and federal laws that interfere,” he says. “The best thing would be that Congress comes in, [reclassifies] marijuana and makes it consistent across the board about what the expectations are. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”



Did you know?

> One acre of hemp equals over four acres of trees for purposes of paper production

> Hemp is a remediation plant, which means it removes toxins from the ground where it grows. It’s been cultivated near the abandoned Chernobyl plant for over 10 years to reduce soil toxicity

> Henry Ford’s first Model T was made from hemp and ran on hemp gasoline

> Hemp has been used throughout history as medicine, fiber, fuel, food and construction material. The earliest written records of its use was over 5,000 years ago

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