Mississippi dispensary owner files lawsuit against state

Medical marijuana dispensary owner files suit in Mississippi over advertising ban.
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 11:35 PM CST
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PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) - On Tuesday, Clarence Cocraft, the owner of a Mississippi medical marijuana dispensary in Olive Branch, filed a lawsuit challenging the restrictions on medical marijuana.

Under state law, medical marijuana businesses are banned from advertising through various outlets, including print and social media.

“So, for example, you wouldn’t be able to place an ad in newspaper or magazine, radio or television, or in the case of my client, Clarence Cocraft, on billboards that he already, independently owns,” said Cocraft’s attorney, Katrin Marquez.

Marquez claims that the restriction is a violation of commercial speech, a First Amendment right.

“That’s the ability to be able to advertise your business because an individual can’t really thrive in their business unless they are able to talk about it and explain what they do,” Marquez said.

She referenced the alcohol industry to show the importance of advertising.

By comparison, a study by Michigan State University shows that people consume 10 to30 percent more alcohol than they would without ads.

Because of the restrictions, Hattiesburg Dispensary owner Ryan Bennett is still trying to find ways to get the word out about his business.

“We’re allowed, for example, to give away shirts and hats and stuff like that, but you can’t even give away merchandise in your store,” Bennett said.

Bennett said the lack of marketing makes it harder for the small business owners in the industry.

“I did not grow up wealthy by any means,” he said. “I’m a veteran. I saved money from my deployment. That’s kind of how I kicked off my businesses. I’ve got four kids. I’m just trying to get by. And that’s the majority of this industry right now.”

Mississippi isn’t the only state with these restrictions.

Surrounding states have similar laws, and Marquez hopes that this case will help stop a domino effect.

“We’re concerned if this becomes normal in one state, it will spread throughout the entire country,” she said. “And you will have this consistent silencing of people who are just trying to thrive doing their job. They’re really just trying to be good entrepreneurs that are reaching out to the community.”

Under Mississippi law, dispensaries are allowed to place the appropriate signs on their properties and display products on their websites.

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