One of nation's largest law firms, Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton L.L.C., announced Tuesday it was "formalizing" a cannabis industry group.

The firm already has more than two years experience representing clients in the burgeoning realm of legal marijuana, said partner Alva Mather. Recently, it successfully shepherded a pair of applicants in New York State, winning one of five available permits to grow marijuana and another to dispense medicinal cannabis oil. The firms' clients in Pennsylvania were shut out of the first round of permits in June. Mather said the firm is readying for the next phase, which could come as early as next year when the state will grant an additional 13 growing permits and up to 23 more dispensary permits.

Along with Mather, partners Jay Dubow and Michael Jones will head up the team. The group will also serve marijuana financiers, investors, and ancillary businesses.

Mather's experience as chair of Pepper Hamilton's Alcoholic Beverage Industry Practice Group will help drive the practice.

"It's a natural progression to move into cannabis, particularly on the recreational side," she said. "That's because state alcohol laws are the basis for many of the cannabis regulations and they're often housed in the same agencies. The mind-set of the regulators also is similar as they balance legalization with controls. So it's a natural fit."