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Medical marijuana industry urges patients to speak out against Missouri ad restrictions

Medical marijuana industry urges patients to speak out against Missouri ad restrictions

Legal marijuana growing in Missouri

A strain of marijuana called Power Plant is photographed on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, at the University City home of a grower who is cultivating in his basement legally for personal use. Photo by Christian Gooden,

JEFFERSON CITY — Industry insiders are urging medical marijuana patients to raise objections after Missouri regulators told dispensaries this summer they couldn’t advertise cannabis sales.

In practice, the rule means companies aren’t allowed to spread the word on product discounts, including holiday specials, even though dispensaries are free to lower prices as they see fit.

The advertising restriction is an unconstitutional barrier to information for medical marijuana patients, business owners said in a full-page ad printed in September’s “The Evolution Magazine,” a cannabis-focused publication based and distributed in Missouri.

The ad asks readers to mail a prewritten postcard to Lyndall Fraker, director of the medical marijuana program, requesting that he rescind the rule because it “runs afoul of the department’s core mission.

“With more than 135 dispensaries now operating in Missouri, patients absolutely should be able to receive information about discounts, products, and events and should not be denied critical information,” the postcard said.

The Department of Health and Senior Services, which regulates the medical marijuana program, sent out a memo in July telling dispensaries not to advertise sales of medical marijuana.

The DHSS cited state regulations against the disbursement of “medical marijuana as part of a promotional event.”

“The Department views a promotional event as any activity, advertisement, or publicity designed to increase interest in purchasing medical marijuana or a particular product or brand of medical marijuana,” an email to dispensaries said.

It said advertising “price discounts on a particular product” or holiday sales events were not allowed.

Lisa Cox, spokeswoman for the DHSS, said Tuesday that the department had not altered its stance.

The ad in Evolution said it was sponsored by medical marijuana business owners and “industry leaders.”

It said the rule constitutes a “constitutional overreach” and “inhibits a patient’s right to fair market prices and access to product information.”

Missouri voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana.

The amendment allows the state to regulate the drug “so long as patient access is not restricted unreasonably and such rules are reasonably necessary for patient safety ....”

Like cannabis, alcohol advertisements have also faced limits in Missouri.

The state had restricted stores, bars and restaurants from advertising special sales prices, but after a federal judge determined the regulation violated free speech rights, the state was forced to pay out $550,000 last year to end a long-running legal dispute.

So far, the state has approved about 136,000 medical marijuana patients, according to health department figures.

Backers of legalizing marijuana for adult use have filed numerous initiative petitions with the Missouri secretary of state.

Legal Missouri 2022, which has backing from established industry players, has been raising funds for a signature-gathering campaign.

A competing effort, Fair Access Missouri, hasn’t kept pace with Legal Missouri’s fundraising.

Canvassers will have to collect enough signatures by next May in order for an adult-use question to make the November 2022 ballot.

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