Colorado Sued Over Marijuana Advertising Limits

02/12/2014 07:12 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2014
Stephen Saks via Getty Images

By Keith Coffman

DENVER, Feb 12 (Reuters) - 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. (Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

Also on HuffPost:

  • Strains of Kaboom and Blue Mystic!
    Nothern Lights Natural Rx
  • The two strains (the latter of which is pictured here) are among those most popular at Northern Lights Natural Rx, says co-owner Eva Woolhiser. But when it comes to edibles, she said customers will go for "anything."
  • The Ominously-Named 'Death Star' Strain!
    Dank Colorado
  • Owner Justin Jones of Dank Colorado: "Our Death Star [strain] has been really popular."
  • And Blue Daddy and Mr. Pink Too!
    Sean Barbas
  • "Our in house strains like Blue Daddy and Mr. Pink (pictured here) have been really popular,” Mile High Medical Cannabis store manager Sean Barbas said. "It’s been nuts”
  • 'Euphoric' Cannabis Concentrate!
  • At The Health Center, owner Tiffany Goldman said a product called Shatter was the top choice among recreational customers before it sold out. Officially known as a cannabis concentrate, it's a form of hash and "according to most people it's more euphoric.
  • Blue Kudu Chocolate!
    Bluekudu.com
  • The edible has been especially popular at Kine Mine, but customers shouldn't get in over their heads. "We’ve been warning people about the potency," CEO and founder Theran Snyder said.
  • Pop Rocks Candy Bars!
    Incredibles
  • "Edibles have been flying off the shelves," Denver Kush owner Darin Smith said. "We’ve found particular success with the Incredibles Fireworks bar. It’s got chocolate mixed with pop rocks and the packaging is just great."
  • Weed Flowers!
    Tim Cullen
  • “Cannabis flowers have been flying out the door," Evergreen Apothecary co-owner Tim Cullen said. "People have been waiting two hours for just two minutes in the store and couldn’t be happier for it.”
  • Weed Sodas!
    AP
  • THC-infused sodas are displayed for sale in a cooler at The Clinic, a Denver-based marijuana dispensary with several outlets.
  • Something Called a TKO Bar, Whatever That Is!
    Hank Borunda
  • "The TKO bar is most popular amongst patients," The Greener Side Owner Hank Borunda wrote in an email to HuffPost.
  • Here's What A Weed Menu Looks LIke!
    AP
  • A recreational marijuana menu and price list sits on a counter at 3D Cannabis Center.
  • And Some Normal Bagged Weed!
    Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
  • Packages of marijuana labeled for recreational use are spread out on a counter at Northern Lights Cannabis Co in Edgewater, Colorado on January 1, 2014.
  • And Of Course, Just Plain, Old Weed Cigarettes!
    AP
  • Different strains of marijuana are displayed for sale at The Clinic in Denver.