Wave of Lawsuits Hits Cannabis Industry Due to ADA Non-Compliant Websites

By Purdy & Bailey, LLP

March 04, 2020

Because they have been deemed to be virtual public spaces, websites must comply with ADA regulations as well. Cannabis and CBD businesses must take even greater precautions, especially those without brick-and-mortar locations. As such, their websites are consumers’ only means of accessing services and purchasing products. Many have failed to provide this accessibility, and the industry has experienced a wave of lawsuits as a result.


New York's First Cannabis Retailer Sued over Website Accessibility

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Lawsuit claims that Housing Works' website is inaccessible to blind people.

The nonprofit that launched recreational cannabis sales in New York City last month is now facing a legal fight over its website, in a suit filed by a blind woman, claiming it’s in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Housing Works, the nonprofit that became the first operational retailer in New York on Dec. 29, has a website that displays its product menu and other features, but according to the lawsuit, it’s not “fully accessible to” those who are visually impaired, Law360 reported. The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.

Plaintiff Rasheta Bunting, who is legally blind, claimed in the suit that she attempted to purchase cannabis from Housing Works through its website, but was unable to do so because it doesn’t have features necessary for blind residents to navigate it.

The Housing Works website “contains thousands of access barriers that make it difficult if not impossible for blind and visually-impaired customers to use the website,” the lawsuit contends. “In fact, the access barriers make it impossible for blind and visually-impaired users to even complete a transaction on the website.”

Bunting’s suit states there’s “readily available accessible technology” that can be used by website designers so that site material can be read aloud by software that aids blind web users, to help them shop online and navigate the internet, but that Housing Works “has chosen to rely on an exclusively visual interface.”

And that, Bunting maintains, is a violation of the federal ADA.

Bunting is asking that a federal judge to issue a permanent injunction to force Housing Works to revamp its website, along with “compensatory damages,” and is seeking to make the lawsuit a class action.


ADA Compliance experts offer tips to make cannabis websites accessible

Excerpts taken from Jackson, M. (2023, July 20). ADA compliance experts offer tips to make cannabis websites accessible. Retrieved November 8, 2023, from https://mjbizdaily.com/how-to-make-cannabis-websites-ada-compliant/ 


In her recent article, Margaret Jackson conducted a series of interviews with legal experts to discuss the critical nature of ADA compliance for cannabis businesses' websites. While there is no explicit law mandating ADA adherence for online platforms, judicial interpretations over time have set a precedent for such expectations.

Andrea Golan, counsel with Vicente a cannabis law firm in Denver, highlights the judicial divide regarding the ADA's public accommodation requirements, leading to ambiguity about whether websites are comprehensively covered by the ADA.

Liz Hartsel, a partner at Denver's Fortis Law Partners, emphasizes the legal risks cannabis companies face if their websites are inaccessible to individuals with disabilities. Her stark warning is clear: "It's not a matter of if you will get sued; it's a matter of when."

Jackson's article further reveals that while some courts have dismissed ADA website claims after companies corrected the alleged infractions, others have ruled that due to the dynamic nature of websites, ongoing updates necessitate continuous compliance to avoid subsequent legal actions. Hartsel advises that businesses must prioritize the present and future accessibility of their websites.

Attorney Mukunda Shanbhag from Bianchi & Brandt in Scottsdale, Arizona, notes that although federal complaints against non-compliant websites are infrequent, any enforcement action by the government can lead to serious financial penalties—$5,000 for an initial violation and $110,000 for subsequent ones. He points out that regulatory bodies are increasingly attentive to the accessibility of websites.

Jackson's piece serves as a cautionary tale for cannabis businesses, urging them to be proactive in ensuring their websites meet ADA standards to avoid litigation and hefty fines.