Two publications have sued Colorado in federal court over restrictions that prohibit the state’s legalized recreational marijuana industry from advertising on television, radio, online or in most print publications. High Times magazine, which caters to marijuana enthusiasts, and Westword, a Colorado alternative weekly newspaper, said in a suit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Denver that the rules were “unjustifiably burdensome” and violate free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
“Government restrictions on commercial speech that concerns lawful activity and is not misleading violate the First Amendment,” the complaint said. Under Colorado law, recreational marijuana shops cannot advertise on television and radio, over the Internet, or in print publications unless they can establish that no more than 30 percent of the targeted audience is under the age of 21. The ban also extends to advertising on billboards or other outdoor venues, and any campaign that targets people outside Colorado. The advertising limits do not apply to Colorado’s medical marijuana industry, which has been in place since 2001.
A spokeswoman for Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said its lawyers were reviewing the complaint. Voters in Colorado and Washington state legalized the possession and use of small amounts recreational marijuana by adults age 21 or older in 2012, even as marijuana remains an illegal narcotic under federal law. Colorado opened its retail pot shops in January, and Washington is slated to follow suit later this year.
The lawsuit, which names as defendants Governor John Hickenlooper and the head of a state department that oversees the marijuana industry, says that Colorado residents voted to approve recreational marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, and that no such advertising bans apply to that industry.
By contrast, U.S. federal law does place restrictions on how tobacco can be packaged and advertised, requiring a large health warning to be displayed on tobacco packaging. Billboards advertising cigarettes are also banned in most states, as are ads targeting young people. Last year, a federal judge struck down a provision of Colorado’s recreational pot law that would have required cannabis-themed publications to be placed behind the counter in stores, much like pornography.
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