A medical cannabis grower filed a federal lawsuit this week alleging that Expo New Mexico officials violated the firm’s free-speech rights by barring a wide variety of items from a booth at the 2017 New Mexico State Fair.
Ultra Health Inc., which owns a growing facility in Bernalillo, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court of New Mexico alleging that restrictions placed on the firm would prevent it from displaying photos or drawings of marijuana plants, or equipment used to cultivate or process the plants.
Ultra Health this year applied for an informational booth at the 2017 New Mexico State Fair that would include “education materials on the medicinal and economic benefits of cannabis,” the lawsuit said.
Expo New Mexico officials in May sent Ultra Health an email containing a list of prohibited items, including anything used to grow or manufacture cannabis, or images of plants, the lawsuit said.
“Ultra Health would be precluded from bringing a microscope, a test tube, a petri dish, or a mass spectrometer to its informational booth” or even a cardboard box, which could be used to store cannabis, the suit said.
The restrictions amount to a violation of free-speech protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit alleges. It asked a judge to order a permanent injunction on the restrictions, and award an unspecified amount of money in damages.
The lawsuit identifies the defendants as Larry Kennedy, chairman of the New Mexico State Fair Commission; Dan Mourning, general manager of Expo New Mexico; and Raina Bingham, director of concessions for Expo New Mexico.
Expo New Mexico responded in a written statement Thursday that Ultra Health’s application included prohibited items, including a “cannabis clone.”
Expo officials asked Ultra Health to resubmit its application, removing prohibited items, including those “used to plant, propagate, cultivate, grow, harvest, manufacture or produce” cannabis, the statement said.
Ultra Health declined to reapply to be a vendor at the fair this year, the statement said.
Duke Rodriguez, owner of Ultra Health, said Thursday that the firm did not intend to bring a live plant to the 2017 fair. He denied that the firm sought permission in its application to bring a cannabis clone.
The conflict between Ultra Health and New Mexico Expo has a history.
Ultra Health last year displayed a cannabis plant named “Dorothy” at a booth the firm rented at the 2016 fair, but the plant was ejected on the first day, Sept. 8, 2016, after fair officials and New Mexico State Police were notified. No arrests were made.