The state of Illinois is violating the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow members of the cannabis industry to make donations to political parties. That's the argument of two Libertarian Party politicians, who filed a lawsuit Nov. 19 that challenges the constitutionality of the state's anti-cannabis law.
When Illinois passed a law legalizing medical marijuana in 2013, it included many unfair restrictions, Chicago attorney Bob Morgan told The Associated Press.
"In hindsight, several aspects of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act went too far and included unnecessary restrictions on the industry - such as requiring patient fingerprinting, severely limiting the qualifying medical conditions, and prohibiting political participation," said Morgan. "This new lawsuit will clarify whether the prohibition was ever constitutional in the first place."
Legislators prohibited donations from the cannabis industry out of fears of potential political corruption. Simply put, the state didn't want politicians making decisions under the influence of cannabis businesses.
Plaintiffs say the ban violates free speech
But plaintiffs Claire Ball and Scott Schluter say the ban on political contributions violates the freedoms of speech and association. Ball is an accountant running for state comptroller in 2016. Schluter is the political division director of the Southern Illinois Libertarian Party. His 2016 campaign to represent Illinois' 117th district will promote issues of individual liberty and drug criminalization.
Legalizing cannabis and other drugs for medical and recreational use is part of the Libertarian Party's platform. Both Ball and Schluter want to promote legalization in Illinois during the 2016 election and beyond. To fund their campaigns, they want to solicit donations from the cannabis industry. But they can't because of the ban, which they argue in their lawsuit leaves the marijuana market without a voice in politics.
"Under the current law, plaintiffs are prohibited from accepting campaign contributions from medical cannabis cultivators, dispensaries, or their related PACs. In this way, the State of Illinois has forbidden candidates for public office from associating with one class of individuals - medical cannabis cultivators, dispensaries, and their related PACs. This constitutes a prior restraint against Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights of free speech and association that cannot be sustained by any imaginable government interest."
Parties could accept donations for 2016 if law overturned
If they win the case, Illinois politicians will be able to accept donations from the state's cannabis industry in the 2016 election. But do these candidates from a fringe party stand a chance? The current rules shouldn't stand up to scrutiny by the court, according to Tyler Anthony of Canna Law Blog.
"I doubt these prohibitions against cannabis donations will withstand constitutional scrutiny," he says. "There is no reason, let alone a compelling one, that justifies excluding cannabis businesses from the political process. If anything, given how obviously ridiculous our country's cannabis laws are, cannabis businesses' participation in politics is even more crucial.