Judge Overturns ‘Unconstitutional’ Ban On Medical Marijuana Ads

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In Washington State, the Pierce County Superior Court recently ruled that a law banning medical marijuana advertisements is absolutely unconstitutional. Judge Elizabeth Martin ruled early this year that because medical marijuana is both legal and established as a medicine, it cannot be banned from advertisement.

The ruling comes after suit was brought by Pierce County osteopath Scott Havsy, who sued the state last year after the Department of Health refused to allow him to advertise that he prescribes medical marijuana for suitable ailments. After he was sanctioned by the DoH, The News Tribune reported that Havsy became widely known as “the guy” patients went to for medical marijuana.

But his lawyer argues that there’s nothing wrong with that. Marijuana is legal in Washington, and medical marijuana was legal before that broader legalization passed. So the state’s ban on medical marijuana advertisements amounts to nothing short of preventing patients from finding the medicine that a doctor deems most suitable for their treatment.

“I find the statute impermissibly over-broad as it chills even informational speech aimed solely at public education,” Pierce County, WA Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin said in her written decision.

Courthouse News Service reported that the ban referred to “any statement or reference, visual or otherwise, on the medical use of marijuana in any advertisement.”

The Yakima Herald-Republic reported that Havsy’s lawyer Mark Olson argued, “The only restrictions that should be placed on professional advertising are to be sure the advertising is not false or misleading. Other than that, when the government restricts advertising by professionals, it places a chilling effect on the free flow of information, especially on the Internet.”

Judge Martin actually disagreed with both attorneys’ arguments that Havsy’s speech was protected even though it was commercial. Instead, she ruled that this was an issue of speech that was actually “in the public’s interest” and that much of the citation for the advertisements in the ads themselves, came from government-run medical and legal websites.

“It is difficult to understand,” she said, “for example, how a link to the state’s own website and a recitation of the language of Chapter 59.51A on medical marijuana harms public health and safety.

“I find that the restriction set forth in the statute at issue is far more extensive than necessary as it bars any advertisement in any form, regardless of the message, format, context, etc… The result of this statute is that the public cannot be informed by any health care provider, including Dr. Havsy, as to whether that provider is even available or willing to perform the required medical exam for the certificate of use,” Judge Martin continued, adding that “even a published statement by a health care provider, purely neutral and informational in nature, potentially violates the blanket prohibitions of this statute.”

(Article by Jackson Marciana)

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