Court strikes down ban on campaign contributions from medical marijuana licensees
“By singling out medical cannabis organizations,” Judge Lee wrote, the state of Illinois appeared to be favoring certain speakers based on their viewpoints – precisely the type of discrimination the Supreme Court has disapproved of in the past.
A federal court has struck down an Illinois law that banned licensed medical marijuana businesses from making contributions to candidates PACs and other political committees.
In a decision issued March 24, U.S. District Court Judge John Z. Lee ruled that the ban violated the businesses’ First Amendment rights.
Judge Lee ruled that the state had provided no justification for banning contributions from the medical cannabis industry while not banning contributions from any other regulated industries.
“By singling out medical cannabis organizations,” Judge Lee wrote, the state appeared to be favoring certain speakers based on their viewpoints – precisely the type of discrimination the Supreme Court has disapproved of in the past.
Judge Lee also observed that Illinois election law already limits contributions by individuals to $5,000 and contributions by corporations to $10,000 (with adjustments for inflation), and the state failed to explain why these limits wouldn’t sufficiently address any concerns about corruption related to contributions by the medical marijuana industry in particular.
The case was brought by the Liberty Justice Center and the Pillar of Law Institute on behalf of two Libertarian Party candidates for state offices, Claire Ball and Scott Schluter, who wished to seek contributions from the industry but could not do so because of the ban. Now they and all other candidates in Illinois are free to do so.
The decision comes just as the issue of legal marijuana is heating up in Illinois. On March 22, State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, introduced legislation that would legalize use, manufacture, and distribution of marijuana in the state. In July 2016, Illinois decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana when Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation making possession of up to 10 grams punishable by a civil fine of $100 to $200.
Meanwhile, another case challenging the state’s campaign finance laws brought by the Liberty Justice Center is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. That case argues that the state’s scheme of campaign contribution limits violates the First Amendment because it allows political parties and the state’s legislative leaders to give candidates unlimited amounts while restricting the amounts all other donors can give, tilting the political playing field to favor incumbents and House Speaker Mike Madigan in particular. The lawsuit also challenges the scheme because it allows corporations and unions to give double the contributions that individual citizens can give.