Clarence Cocroft, the owner of Tru Source, a medical marijuana dispensary in Olive Branch, Mississippi, is contending that the ban on medical marijuana advertising in Mississippi is hindering his dispensary’s ability to attract customers. He claims that this prohibition infringes upon his freedom of speech, a claim central to the federal suit filed on Nov. 14, 2023.
The lawsuit targets the regulatory authorities overseeing these restrictions, including the state’s health department, the revenue department, and the state’s bureau of alcohol and beverage control.
While medical cannabis is now legal in Mississippi for persons with qualifying conditions and a medical marijuana card, the state law explicitly forbids dispensary owners and cultivators from promoting marijuana products. To establish a medical marijuana shop, one is required to obtain a dispensary license, obtain a sales tax registration and incur considerable fees. Additionally, patrons must possess a medical marijuana card and be at least 21 years old to enter a dispensary.
Tru Source relies on limited advertising channels, including word of mouth, on-location signage and its website. Cocroft, however, faces restrictions preventing him from promoting the dispensary through other mediums. He highlights that potential customers might remain unaware of the store’s existence unless they happen to pass by.
Represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), a nationwide libertarian nonprofit law firm, Cocroft’s lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of commercial speech regulations. Katrin Marquez, an attorney for Cocroft, points out how these regulations, viewed through the lens of the First Amendment, impede business growth.
When Tru Source was established, Cocroft invested in billboards in the north of the state for advertising but had to lease the locations to other businesses, such as a casino, capable of legally promoting their products. The case and the resultant media attention have attracted new customers to Tru Source, increasing daily visits from about 15 to 20 patients to 20 to 30 patients picking up medical marijuana products.
Cocroft argues that the ban on advertising not only affects dispensary owners but also impacts cultivators. If dispensaries can’t promote products, their purchasing capacity diminishes, causing financial losses for cultivators. He questions the disparity, noting that industries such as alcohol, medications, casinos and strip clubs can advertise statewide, while marijuana dispensaries face restrictions.
Cocroft highlights the financial burden borne by those invested in Mississippi’s medical marijuana industry, where millions of dollars have been spent in pursuit of helping patients navigate a novel business landscape. In his view, the unequal advertising regulations create a puzzling dichotomy where certain industries can freely advertise, while others, such as Tru Source, face stringent limitations.
It isn’t just cannabis companies in Mississippi that are hamstrung by restrictions on advertising. Other enterprises operating elsewhere, such as SNDL Inc. (NASDAQ: SNDL), are also grappling with limitations on how and where they can advertise their products.
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