A lawsuit filed against the state of Mississippi by a medical cannabis dispensary owner has been dismissed. The lawsuit challenged Mississippi’s laws, which the plaintiff said placed restrictions on marijuana businesses by forbidding them from placing advertisements on a majority of media platforms.
In a decision issues last week, Federal District Judge Michael P. Mills agreed with the state’s stance that such operations do not benefit from the constitutional protections afforded to certain types of commercial speech because marijuana possession is still prohibited under federal law.
Clarence Cocroft II, the plaintiff, founded Tru Source Medical Cannabis in 2022 following Mississippi’s legalization of medical cannabis use for patients with life-threatening illnesses. However, he claims that because the state forbids medical cannabis companies from running advertisements in any medium, he has had difficulty attracting consumers.
Cocroft, who was represented by the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian law firm, filed a lawsuit against Mississippi’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Bureau and the state’s Health and Revenue Departments. His claims revolve around the purported infringement of his advertising rights, stating that the limitations imposed by the state prohibit him from running advertisements in periodicals, newspapers, radio, television and billboards.
In his decision, Judge Mills stated that he believed it would be a major violation of state sovereignty to remove Mississippi’s prohibitions on marijuana advertising. He stressed that the state’s legislature had outdone the U.S. Congress by legalizing cannabis to some degree. This, in Mills’ opinion, called into question the jurisdiction of a federal court to tell the Mississippi legislature how far it may take cannabis legalization.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the ruling, Cocroft maintained that Mississippi’s rules violate businesses’ First Amendment rights. He stated that he plans to file an appeal with the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over the ruling. While the state can’t restrict dispensaries from displaying signs on their premises or showcasing products on their websites, Cocroft’s attorneys maintain that the broader advertising restrictions imposed by the health department are unconstitutional.
Marijuana is still classified as a restricted substance under federal law, even though President Joe Biden has pardoned thousands of individuals who were found guilty of using cannabis and of simple possession on federal property. Mills emphasized that states have the right to control marijuana advertising as long as it is still illegal on a federal level, bolstering Mississippi’s jurisdiction to regulate how the substance is advertised.
This lawsuit filed in Mississippi highlights some of the challenges that cannabis enterprises, including major actors such as Cronos Group Inc. (NASDAQ: CRON) (TSX: CRON), have to contend with in the different markets in which they operate. Reform has been slow and incremental, but the industry hopes that all vestiges of the era of prohibition will be reversed as the public and policymakers gain a deeper understanding of the industry.
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