Cox sued for linking vending machine image, pot

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A company that makes medical vending machines sued a conservative lobbying group on Friday, claiming it was defamed when the group used an image of a machine during a news conference in opposition of Arkansas' medical marijuana ballot initiative.

Medical Dispensing Systems Inc. of Hollywood, Calif., is seeking damages from the Arkansas Family Action Council, whose leader, Jerry Cox, claimed the machines could be used to dispense marijuana in convenience stores if the measure passes.

The company also wants a temporary restraining order blocking Cox and the group from using the image and claiming the machine is linked with illicit drug use, though they are used in some marijuana dispensaries in California.

Cox held a news conference at the Capitol on Tuesday in which he had a cardboard cutout of a Medbox vending machine with a large, green marijuana leaf pasted on it.

Cox wouldn't address the merits of the lawsuit Friday, saying he hadn't yet seen it yet.

"Family Council Action Committee has taken a stand for what's right for many years. The people of Arkansas are well aware of that, and most appreciate it. However, not everyone agrees with us. When you operate in the arena we do, lawsuits can and will be filed against you," Cox said in a prepared statement.

Attorney John T. Holleman, who represents the company, said the outcome of Tuesday's vote won't affect the lawsuit.

"This has been broadcast on the World Wide Web and on television. It's outrageous in defaming us and diluting our trademark and copyright. It's a patented machine," Holleman said.

In the suit, Holleman explains that the machines are found in "hospitals, pharmacies, urgent care centers and doctor's offices to maintain inventory control and accountability for employees dispensing medicine to consumers."

The machines use key cards and fingerprints as identifiers for authorized users.

The lawsuit claims Cox made a number of statements that defamed the company, such as describing the machines as "high-tech snack machines that sell marijuana and marijuana-infused food instead of potato chips."

The suit also notes that an article on the organization's website that says the machines could be placed in convenience stores is "displayed ... in conjunction with a video portraying armed drug dealers."

Medical Dispensing Systems Inc. is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The ballot item is backed by the group Arkansans for Compassionate Care, who argues that marijuana is the only drug that can relieve pain and nausea associated with chemotherapy and other medical conditions. The group gathered signatures to get the item on the ballot.

The pro-medical marijuana group this week released a list of dozens of Arkansas physicians who support the proposal.

Cox has worked to organize law enforcement, medical professionals and other to publicly oppose the measure, and his group also unsuccessfully sued to remove the measure from the ballot.