JACKSON, Miss. (420CanNews)—Citing First Amendment issues, a Mississippi dispensary owner has sued the state over advertising prohibitions that he alleges keep him from promoting his business, placing a spotlight on the country’s uneven regulatory landscape.
Clarence Cocroft II opened Tru Source Medial Cannabis soon after Mississippi legalized medical marijuana for debilitating conditions in 2022. In his lawsuit against the state, he said the business struggled because the Department of Health banned dispensaries like his from doing public, media outreach.
The law violates Cocroft’s First Amendment rights, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi.
“All I want to do, like any other business owner, is have the opportunity to advertise. If I pay taxes in this business, which I do, I should be able to advertise,” Cocroft said, as reported by the Associated Press. “All I’m asking from this state is to provide us with the same liberty that they’ve provided other businesses.”
The Mississippi law legalizing medical marijuana gave Mississippi’s Department of Health discretion over advertising, which lead to a complete prohibition of marijuana dispensaries from advertising and marketing in any media,[JTS1] [JTS2] [AA3] according to lawyers with the Institute for Justice, which is handling Cocroft’s case. The law only allows dispensaries to have signs on their own property and to maintain a basic homepage on the web, the law firm said.
“Like all entrepreneurs, Clarence wants to tell consumers about his business,” the Institute for Justice said on its website. “He wants to be able to tell patients where it’s located, what he sells, and how much it costs. But he can’t, despite his constitutional right to do so.”
While Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama also have regulations that ban marijuana dispensaries from using public media platforms for advertising, Cocroft’s attorneys told the Associated Press that regulations on a Mississippi dispensary are more stringent than those in neighboring states.
The Associated Press was unable to obtain a response from the Mississippi Department of Health for its story.
Uneven Regulation Over Growing Ad Spending
Projected advertising expenditures on marijuana in North America was $661 million U.S. dollars in 2018 and will eventually grow to $3.89 billion by 2028, according to Statista.
Comparing regulations in the United States and Canada, a 2023 study said that U.S. advertising laws for cannabis vary greatly, with some states prohibiting advertising altogether and others having minimal regulation. Among the 31 states that did allow some cannabis advertising, 74% explicitly prohibit any focus or appeal to minors and 68% prohibit making false or misleading claims.
“This lack of guidance makes things confusing for advertisers and also opens up the potential for public health harms, such as youth being targeted with messaging or the spread of misinformation and false claims,” said authors of the study.
Canada, however, has a more straightforward approach, specifically prohibiting 18 marketing strategies, including targeting and appealing to minors, offering coupons and giveaways, promoting health or cosmetic benefits, endorsements and testimonials, false claims, and association with alcohol or tobacco products, according to the study titled “Cannabis Advertising Policies in the United States: State-Level Variation and Comparison with Canada.”
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