Pot publications have right to be displayed
The latest front in Colorado’s ongoing marijuana war was opened last week when several pot-oriented publications sued the state over new marijuana regulations just passed by the state Legislature and signed into law last week by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
High Times magazine, The Daily Doobie and Hemp Connoiseurs are not objecting to the major portion of the rules adopted by the Legislature, rules aimed at regulating recreational marijuana use following the passage of Amendment 64 by Colorado voters last year.
In fact, they object to only one provision in House Bill 1317 — a measure that would treat marijuana-related publications like pornography and require them to be kept behind the counter in any establishment that people under 21 may enter.
A lawyer for the three publications argued in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Denver that the provision in HB1317 violates their First Amendment rights.
“The bill specifically targets the content of plaintiffs’ speech: marijuana,” the lawsuit argues. “Plaintiffs’ speech is largely and often political, focusing on new and changing marijuana legalization and legislation.”
The First Amendment and its free-press rights are critical because they protect the publishing of viewpoints — especially political opinions — that may be abhorrent to the majority.
This provision highlights one of the side issues related to Coloradans’ decision to legalize recreational marijuana last year: Just because recreational marijuana is legal, does it mean the state must allow publications promoting marijuana use to be prominently displayed in areas where minors can read them? After all, we already require pornographic or sexually explicit magazines to be kept out of sight in businesses where minors can visit.
But the marijuana magazines don’t contain obscenity, the lawsuit argues. They are more like magazines that promote beer brewing or wine tasting than sexually explicit magazines, the publishers contend. And since Amendment 64 specifically said its aim was to regulate marijuana like alcohol, the publications should be treated the same, they claim.
It is difficult to make the case that marijuana-related magazines should be kept behind counters or under wraps in businesses where minors may be present, since magazines about wine, beer or other alcoholic beverages are not restricted.
Moreover, if the state Legislature can dictate how stores display magazines about marijuana that clearly don’t involve pornographic or obscene material, then it may one day claim for itself the power to decide how other publications may be displayed. What about those hot-rod magazines that may promote excessive use of fossil fuels?
We understand the desire to avoid encouraging minors to experiment with marijuana, but the Legislature overstepped its authority with this provision of HB1317. The court should side with the pot publications.