Sacha Baron Cohen Sues Dispensary for $9 Million Over Billboard Ad

The English actor Sasha Baron Cohen did not give permission to use his Borat character to sell cannabis.
Sacha Baron Cohen

Sacha Baron Cohen filed a lawsuit against Somerset, Massachusetts-based Solar Therapeutics—arguing that the dispensary is liable for copyright infringement and false advertising after using his image without his permission on a billboard ad. Baron Cohen denies any involvement with Solar Therapeutics and does not smoke cannabis, although it’s a topic he jokes about frequently. This time, the English actor is not in a laughing mood.

Solar Therapeutics erected a billboard on a busy interstate highway in Massachusetts that features a picture of Baron Cohen as Borat, with his thumbs up and the words “It’s Nice!,” one of Borat’s catchphrases. It also read “Happy 4/20!” The billboard appeared in Somerset near exit 10B. Baron Cohen was not amused.

The billboard appeared April 19 and was taken down on April 27, just three days after Baron Cohen’s attorneys sent a cease-and-desist order to the dispensary.

According to court documents filed July 12, the actor alleges that Solar Therapeutics committed “willful copyright infringement, false advertising, and violation of the Massachusetts statute against misappropriation of rights of publicity” using the likeness and image of Baron Cohen and his popular character, Borat. The lawsuit seeks $9 million in damages.

“The reason why Mr. Baron Cohen never has used cannabis is that he does not believe it is a healthy choice. With his ‘Ali G’ character, portrayed by Mr. Baron Cohen in the HBO television series Da Ali G Show, Mr. Baron Cohen has spent much of his career making a mockery of ‘stoner’” culture—a culture which the Defendants’ Billboard overtly celebrates,” the lawsuit reads.

It continues, “In addition, Mr. Baron Cohen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family; he is an Observant Jew; and he is proud of his cultural heritage. He does not wish to be involved in the heated controversy among the Orthodox Jewish community about whether cannabis can be used under Jewish traditions, customs, and rules—a controversy in which many rabbinical leaders have stated that cannabis use is a violation of Jewish law.”

The lawsuit also mentions that  a jury awarded $8.9 million to Michael Jordan involving a grocery company for a magazine ad using Jordan’s image without his permission, and other cases such as one involving Kim Kardashian.

The lawsuit also explains the actor had never advertised any cannabis products in the UK or US—over fears that it would “weaken his credibility as an actor and as a serious social activist”.

Sacha Baron Cohen x High Times

Baron Cohen interviewed with Dan Skye for High Times for the October 2003 cover of the magazine—but interviewed as Ali G, his fictional stoner character, not himself. The new lawsuit explains why Baron Cohen openly jokes about cannabis, but does not consume due to his faith.

While the English actor’s characters Ali G, Borat and Brüno are wildly silly, he enjoyed an ivy league education, studying History with a focus on anti-semitism at Cambridge.

Baron Cohen has two nominations for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, three Golden Globe Award nominations, two wins for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his work in the feature film Borat and its sequel. In 2021, he received more nominations for his acclaimed portrayal of Abbot “Abbie” Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Perhaps Baron Cohen is best known for blurring the lines between comedy and activism. For instance, in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, his skit put Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani in a compromising and possibly legally challenging position. Giuliani, 76, is seen lying down, fiddling with his untucked shirt and reaching into his trousers. An actress playing Borat’s daughter poses as a TV journalist, only to have Borat say that she is only 15 afterwards.

But this time Baron Cohen is not laughing, and the serious side of him is becoming more apparent and intolerant of false and misleading ads that he believes could severely damage his image.

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