Lawyers for Seattle Events a Non-Profit Corporation, producer of Seattle Hempfest, have filed a lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of Washington State’s restrictions free speech rights of businesses licensed under the state’s 502 legal Cannabis program.
The Legislature and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) have enacted new ad restrictions and interpretations that prevent licensed businesses from having signs or booths at Hempfest that identify the businesses’ support for Hempfest or for any legal reform or public education. Hempfest and two licensed businesses are challenging the overbroad free speech restrictions that prevent those businesses from simply identifying themselves and sharing information entirely unrelated to advertising.
Washington State has placed new regulations on cannabis businesses several times since I-502, the 2012 state initiative that legalized cannabis in Washington, passed; the new law originally listed as SB 5131, focused on advertisements.
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board’s Bulletin 19-01, interpreting 2017 legislation respecting “signs,” tells licensees that they cannot participate at Hempfest in any way that involves “any sign” that “references” the business. So, the WSLCB is barring business from having “any sign” at Hempfest, even it is at a booth that merely identifies the business and includes literature such as scientific studies or a compilation of existing statutes that merit legal reform, such as Washington’s ban on consumption lounges or federal law that lists of marijuana as a “Schedule I” controlled substance and prevents researchers and universities from conducting federally funded scientific research.
This sweeping, overbroad ban on free speech is at the heart of Hempfest’s legal challenge to RCW 69.50.369
“We believe that the new interpretation of Washington State’s 502 ad guidelines are so overreaching and restrictive as to be unconstitutional.
It is imperative that Washingtonians have access it accurate and up to date information regarding the cannabis products they purchase and consume, and that those citizens and others are able to identify the source of that information.
Businesses engaged in the cannabis industry in Washington State should also have the legal right to publicly show their support for political issues and causes of their choosing. The WSLCB’s interpretation of our state’s ad restrictions prevent businesses from doing so,” says HEMPFEST’s longtime director, Vivian McPeak.
“To single out particular speakers and businesses and prevent them from speaking on matters of public debate has been condemned in numerous US Supreme Court cases, “ McPeak adds.
The real problem is that the WSLCB and the statute strip licensees of their free speech rights at a first amendment protected event. Licensees have become a disfavored group of speakers, whose rights are entirely abridged. It is not a matter of restricting misleading advertising or restricting advertising to kids or adults under 21. It is a total ban.
RCW 69.50.369(1) provides that: No licensed marijuana producer, processor, researcher, or retailer may place or maintain, or cause to be placed or maintained, any sign or other advertisement for a marijuana business or marijuana product, including useable marijuana, marijuana concentrates, or marijuana-infused product, in any form or through any medium whatsoever within one thousand feet of the perimeter of a school grounds, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, or library, or any game arcade admission to which is not restricted to persons aged twenty-one years or older.
Source: press release