Free speech in marijuana industry given judge’s approval

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A medical marijuana provider wins a case over First Amendment violations

Ultra Health didn’t want to do anything other businesses weren’t doing. The producer of cannabis products had submitted an application to be an exhibitor at the 2017 State Fair in New Mexico, only to find the application denied. New Mexico’s government, which operates the fair, decided that cannabis wasn’t “family-friendly” and, as such, would have to be prohibited. Ultra Health didn’t take the rejection lightly and sued the state, claiming that its First Amendment rights had been violated. A judge has now agreed with those claims.

Ultra Health is a nonprofit that operates within the guidelines of New Mexico’s cannabis laws. It wanted to participate in the fair in order to provide educational material on marijuana, including where it comes from, how it’s manufactured and who can qualify for medical marijuana. The company ultimately sued three officials with the State Fair, arguing that the restrictions violated the First Amendment.

U.S. District Court Judge James Parker agreed last week, stating that, while the Fair can use discretion to determine what is considered “family-friendly,” it must do so in a reasonable manner. He explained that the fair “has inconsistently applied its own policy, creating exceptions to its written list of criteria for certain applicants while simultaneously relying on that same list of criteria to restrict Ultra Health.”

It was pointed out that the State Fair allowed a knife display at the 2017 event, even though its rules expressly prohibit knives. It also permitted an organic healthcare company that wanted to sell hemp-derived oil.

In his ruling, Judge Parker added, “Accordingly, the Court concludes that the State Fair’s restrictions on Ultra Health’s 2017 State Fair application to display implements used to grow and process medical cannabis and images of those implements as part of their educational message were unreasonable in light of the purpose of the State Fair and the surrounding circumstances. As a result, Defendants violated Plaintiff’s First Amendment right to free speech.”

Perhaps the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) can take a hint from the judge’s ruling.