Ban on Dispensary Donations Nipped in the Bud

CHICAGO (CN) – Two Libertarian Party candidates convinced a federal judge that an Illinois law banning medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries from making political campaign contributions violates free-speech rights.

Libertarians Claire Ball and Scott Schulter sued Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Illinois Board of Election officials in Chicago federal court in 2015. They support expanded legalization of marijuana and seek to legally solicit and accept political contributions from members of the medical marijuana industry.

State lawmakers passed the Medical Cannabis Act in 2013, which allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients with debilitating medical issues without facing criminal charges. The law also regulates the operations of medicinal marijuana plant growers and dispensaries, which are sometimes referred to as “compassion clubs.”

That same day, the Legislature enacted a statute banning medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries from making campaign contributions to political committees promoting a candidate for public office. The statue also prohibits political candidates from accepting those donations.

Ball and Schluter claimed in their federal lawsuit that the law violates their free-speech rights as well as donors’ political freedom of speech protected under the First Amendment.

State officials failed to convince U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee that Illinois has the right to prohibit medical marijuana-related campaign contributions based on its claim that members of the medical cannabis industry hope to get political favors in the form of renewed permits, a limited number of which are issued each year.

“Defendants offer no support for their claim that medical cannabis cultivation centers and dispensaries in fact pose a greater risk of corruption than other potential donors, including those subject to similar regulation and licensure requirements,” Judge Lee wrote in a 22-page opinion issued Friday.

Lee found that the First Amendment “does not give the government free reign to selectively impose contribution restrictions in a manner that discriminates based on content or viewpoint.”

The judge concluded that the state cannot justify banning medical marijuana contributions when more reasonable restrictions are available, such as dollar limits on contributions.

He struck down the statute because it places an “unjustifiable burden on the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association.”

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