First Amendment Lawsuit Filed Against NM EXPO

EXPO New Mexico restricts access to info.

A state-licensed medical marijuana producer is suing EXPO New Mexico officials. The suit claims restrictions on what the company was allowed to display in an informational booth violated free speech laws. Mainly by preventing them from reasonably disseminating their info.

New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health explained why they filed the complaint this week in U.S. District Court. They claimed that the rules set forth by the EXPO officials are so strict the company couldn’t even display its logo. The logo features a stylized image of a marijuana leaf, but not displaying it would negate the benefits of presenting.

Last summer, Ultra Health ran into trouble with the EXPO as well. They were given permission to place a small marijuana plant at a booth on the fairgrounds. Ultra Health President Duke Rodriguez said that despite following all the rules,  about seven hours after the plant went on display, fair officials ordered its removal. The officials demanded the removal citing complaints from “higher up.”

But that wasn’t the end of it.EXPO Banned Substance

The state Department of Health later contacted Ultra Health. They said that displaying the plant violated rules governing the nonprofit’s license to grow medical cannabis. Because of the violation, the producer was sanctioned by having to close all seven of their locations for five days.

The sanction couldn’t have come at a worse time either. April 20, the biggest cannabis consuming holiday of the year fell right in the middle of the penalty. Rodriguez estimated that closing his dispensaries around the state for five days would cost the company more than $150,000.

The insane fees and penalties prompted Ultra Health to sue the department in state District Court. They contended the sanction was excessive, not supported by law and would actively hurt patients. In April, Ultra Health learned that the penalties would be held off until a judge could hear the case.

This may be the first Lawsuit, but it won’t be the last.

NM State Fair

This lawsuit is just an example of the tension between marijuana advocates and government officials. Ultra Health is part of a movement sweeping the nation and won’t let the personal prejudices of a few people get in the way of progress. And they won’t roll over to let members of a legal, regulated industry be subjected to unfair treatment.

In an effort to clarify what was and what was not allowed this year, Ultra Health asked EXPO officials for details. The e-mail reply from Riana Bingham, the Director of Concessions stated “You may not bring onto the EXPO New Mexico campus any and all cannabis and cannabis derived products including CDB products.” CDB stands for cannabidiol, a compound that does not make feel high but does provide medicinal benefits.

“Moreover, you may not bring any type of drug paraphernalia that could be used to plant, propagate, cultivate, grow, harvest, manufacture, compound, convert, produce, process, prepare, test, analyze, pack, repack, store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale or otherwise introduce into the human body any type of cannabis or other controlled substance,” Bingham continued in the e-mail.

Ultra Health wasn’t having it.

The lawsuit says the restrictions presented above effectively ban them from participation. These rules prohibit Ultra Health from displaying a microscope, a scale, a shovel, or even a cardboard box, as those items could be used in the cultivation or storage of cannabis.

The suit claims that the next line in Bingham’s email goes even further in restricting the producer’s First Amendment rights. It states, “You are also precluded from displaying any image of the above restricted items in any way to include banners, flyers clothing or any other medium,”

Under those rules, booths can’t show even a drawing of a cannabis plant. Ultra Health claims the rules prevent retailers from displaying even “a T-shirt of Bob Marley holding a cannabis product.” When asked if the rules intended to prohibit such images, Expo Spokesman Erin Thompson said it was “hard to say” but that officials have the authority to do so and have in the past.

The company decided not to attend the upcoming state fair. Ultra Health asked the federal court to declare that the fair officials actions illegal. Ultra Health claims EXPO officials treated them “As if Ultra Health is engaged in criminal activity, instead of medical activity regulated by the State.” The company also requested the court to confirm Ultra Health’s right “to educate and inform the public … without being subjected to content and viewpoint discrimination.”

Featured image: via Flickr CC

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About Adam Rhodes

Adam is a glass collector, entrepreneur, artist, and fine cannabis connoisseur who loves to be engaged in creative projects and scientific research. He specializes in producing cannabis related content on a variety of platforms. Adam loves connecting with the cannabis community and collaborating with creators and businesses.

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