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WIRE: New Mexico cannabis provider files freedom of speech lawsuit

Albuquerque, New Mexico – New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health filed a complaint against three EXPO New Mexico officials for unconstitutional attempts to limit the company’s rights to display a cannabis educational and informative booth at the New Mexico State Fair in 2017.

Because EXPO New Mexico is a government entity and the New Mexico State Fair a public forum, restricting Ultra Health’s ability to educate the public and advocate on behalf of medical cannabis violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the lawsuit contends.

“Medical cannabis is 100 percent legal in New Mexico, and a proven source of relief for a variety of medical conditions including cancer, epilepsy and severe chronic pain. It is highly regulated and monitored by the New Mexico Department of Health,” said Duke Rodriguez, CEO & President of Ultra Health®. “Even so, repeated conversations with EXPO New Mexico staff have proven to be ineffective, which is why we resorted to the courts.”

“We take our freedom to advocate on behalf of patients very seriously, and we believe any kind of public education on behalf of cannabis and patients will only aid in improving the understanding, accessibility and affordability of this medicine,” Rodriguez continued.

Ultra Health applied for an education booth at the 2017 New Mexico State Fair after receiving an invitation to apply from EXPO New Mexico earlier this year.

In an email, Raina Bingham, the Director of the Concessions Department for EXPO New Mexico, stated Ultra Health would be prohibited from displaying items or photos of items which directly relate to activities regarding medical cannabis.

Bingham stated:

“You may not bring onto the EXPO New Mexico campus any and all cannabis and cannabis derived products including CBD products. You may also not bring any product that would be outside your New Mexico Department of Health approved distribution plan. 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. 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.”

The statement from EXPO New Mexico demonstrates viewpoint discrimination and prior restraint, therefore infringing upon Ultra Health’s speech and civil rights, the lawsuit states.

“It is unconstitutional for the state to impede upon the freedom of speech and expression,” Rodriguez said. “The public has a desire to know and understand how cannabis fits into our society today. Rather than ‘just say no’ it is important for all of us to be in the know to ensure safe, affordable and accessible medicine.”

Ultra Health believes this is the first time a cannabis company has filed a federal lawsuit on First Amendment rights. Because New Mexico’s medical cannabis industry has seen such rapid growth and expansion, legal issues have also become more complex.

Ultra Health has experienced participation discrimination from other private and state entities. Ultra Health’s sponsorship request for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in 2016 was denied due to its status as a medical cannabis provider in June of 2016.

Similarly, the New Mexico Tourism Department denied Ultra Health’s request to become an industry partner with the state’s New Mexico True Certified Program in July 2016, although its products fully meet the criteria to be considered for the certification. The department declined Ultra Health’s application due to cannabis’ status as a Schedule 1 drug although the provider’s products and operations are legal under state law.

“We have a responsibility on a national and community level to make certain cannabis gets a fair and honest discourse,” said Rodriguez.

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