IJ Dispenses Free Speech in Mississippi

Ari Bargil
Ari Bargil  ·  February 1, 2024

When Mississippi joined the wave of states legalizing medical marijuana in 2022, Clarence Cocroft seized the opportunity. After a long career writing science textbooks for large publishers, Clarence decided to launch Tru Source Medical Cannabis to blend his love of science with his lifelong desire to be his own boss.

He quickly obtained the necessary paperwork and submitted it to the state. After months of setbacks, which included agreeing to open his dispensary in an obscure industrial park, Clarence finally secured his license—proudly becoming the proprietor of Mississippi’s first black-owned medical marijuana dispensary.

Watch the case video!

Like any local entrepreneur, Clarence wants to advertise his business. In fact, for his business to survive at its hard-to-find location, he needs to. But Mississippi regulators insist that they can completely censor him from promoting his business and his products. This means Clarence cannot take out ads telling patients where he is, what he sells, or what his products cost. Even more nonsensically, Clarence can’t advertise Tru Source on his own billboards, even though the same billboards could legally be used to promote alcohol, casinos, and gentlemen’s clubs.  

In short, Clarence’s business is legal in Mississippi—but it is illegal for him to tell anyone about it. 

So IJ and Clarence sued the state to vindicate his right to free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear: If something is legal to sell, it is legal to talk about. That includes so-called commercial speech—that is, speech that proposes a commercial transaction. And marijuana’s illegality under federal law doesn’t mean Mississippi can regulate Clarence out of existence. The federal government itself has announced that it is not interested in—and thus will spend no money on—enforcing federal drug laws against medical marijuana businesses in states where they are legal. 

The First Amendment protects the right of all Americans to engage in truthful speech about legal products. Those protections are not malleable—they cannot be narrowed by crafty jurisdictional arguments or sidestepped to accommodate the state’s paternalistic desires. This case is the first in the nation to squarely present these issues, in this context, in federal court. 

But cutting-edge constitutional questions like these are where IJ thrives, and along with Clarence and Tru Source, we intend to secure meaningful protections for entrepreneurs nationwide.

Ari Bargil is an IJ senior attorney.

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