Libertarians sue to lift pot-related campaign ban

Lawsuit argues contributions are protected free speech

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Two Libertarians seeking state office are suing the state over its prohibition on campaign contributions from the medical marijuana industry.

Claire Ball of Addison is seeking the office of state comptroller as a Libertarian Party of Illinois candidate, and Scott Schluter of Marion is running for the Legislature in the 117th Representative District under the same banner.

In their federal lawsuit filed Nov. 19, the two argue the state’s ban on campaign giving by medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries, as well as related political action committees, violates the protections of free speech and free association guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They also cite protections afforded in Article 1, Sections 4 and 5, of the Illinois Constitution.

Ball and Schluter are represented by lawyers from the Liberty Justice Center in Chicago and the Pillar of Law Institute in Washington, D.C.

Named as defendants are Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Illinois State Board of Elections Chairman Charles Scholz, and each of the members of the State Board, all in their official capacities.

A Madigan spokeswoman on Monday said the attorney general’s office had received the lawsuit, is reviewing it and will file its answer with the court by the Dec. 10 deadline.

Ball and Schluter argue the state has “enacted a ban against political contributions by one class of disfavored speakers —medical cannabis cultivators or dispensers—while contributions by similarly situated speakers in other businesses subject to state licensure are not banned.”

And, they say, “medical cannabis cultivators and producers are not singularly more corrupting than similarly situated individuals.”

While Ball and Schluter say they’ve not accepted such contributions, they do favor marijuana legalization and would like to gather support from those who agree.

“Were they free to do so, plaintiffs would start soliciting and accepting campaign contributions now and in any future elections from medical cannabis cultivators and dispensaries,” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs contend the state’s ban on campaign contributions “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.”

They ask the court to find the campaign contribution ban unconstitutional and forbid its enforcement, as well as an award of $1 in damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and any other relief the court deems appropriate.

The case is number 15-cv-10441. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

The Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program has authorized eight cultivation centers. Six approved dispensaries are currently operating, according to the state, and a total of 20 to 25 licenses dispensaries are expected to be open by the end of the year. The state health department estimates there are about 3,300 qualifying patients.


 

Illinois News Network reporter Greg Bishop contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: Plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case include lawyers with the Liberty Justice Center, which is affiliated with the Illinois Policy Institute. The writer reports for the Illinois News Network, an independent project of the Illinois Policy Institute.

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