Washington Court Says Local Pot Dealers Can Hang Up Christmas Lights That Spell 'POT'

from the stop-telling-people-you-have-pot,-pot-sellers dept

Buying and selling marijuana is legal in the state of Washington. There are several limits placed on these acts, but it’s pretty much the equivalent of alcohol. You have to be 21, can only buy a certain amount at a time, and can’t smoke it in public or drive under the influence.

What’s apparently illegal is playfully announcing your pot business sells pot using nothing but Christmas lights. (via Reason)

In 2017, Hashtag Cannabis in Redmond, Washington hung up some Christmas lights on the store that spelled out “P-O-T.” Here’s a really terrible photo of the contested display, taken from the county court’s ruling on Hashtag’s pot sign:

Ho ho ho now I have a gravity bong.

The local authorities — the Washington Liquor and Cannabis board — were not amused. The Board cited the store for violating restrictions on signage, claiming the string of Christmas lights exceeded the allowable size of 1,600 square inches by 2,300 square inches. It also said the sign was not “affixed” to the “permanent structure,” which seems a little weird because lights have to be affixed to something and in this case it was the business’ building. The Board also took issue with the word “POT” because it wasn’t part of Hashtag Cannabis’ business name.

Two years later, Hashtag Cannabis has struck a blow for the little guy with Christmas lights, a weed business, and maybe a little too much time on his hands. The ruling [PDF] says the state’s regulations run afoul of state free speech protections, as well as the US Constitution.

The state argued its ban on POT in Christmas light form was crucial to the government’s “substantial interest” in “curtailing minor children’s interest in and exposure to the marijuana trade.” Inarguably, this is a legitimate interest. However, the laws governing this speech aren’t all that legitimate.

Though the State’s position rises above speculation and conjecture, the advertising restrictions have too many conflicting provisions to directly and materially advance the State’s substantial interest in preventing underage consumption of marijuana.

First, the court points out the law would allow a kid-enticing display of POT Christmas lights as long as it was a bit smaller.

As to content, at argument, counsel for the State agreed that Hashtag could register the word Pot as a business or trade name and then display the word Pot on an otherwise-compliant sign in the store. It follows that, so long as the sign was permanently affixed, no larger than 1,600 square inches, and did not exceed the two-sign limit, it would be permissible.

More ridiculously, Hashtag Cannabis could have built a billboard right next to the store that was even bigger — containing the same message — and would not have violated the statute.

While the State argues that the restrictions in RCW 69.50.369(2) advance the State’s interest because they “minimize the risk of inordinately capturing the attention of children, youth, and young adults,” Respondent’s Answer at 11, other provisions in the regulatory scheme undermine the advancement of that goal. Hashtag could have a sign using the word Pot if it just registers that business or trade name, and it could conceivably have an entire billboard next door to its store with the word Pot.

None of this speech curtailment adds up to any meaningful attempt to steer kids away from pot.

If the State wishes to minimize the risk of capturing the attention of children, restricting retailers to two permanently-affixed signs displaying the business or trade name of no more than 1,600 square inches on premises, but allowing billboards off premises, and allowing retailers to register business or trade names such as Pot, does not directly advance that goal.

The county court doesn’t say the whole law has to go. This is a very narrow ruling. But it’s just wide enough to squeeze Hashtag’s unorthodox Christmas light signage past it.

The Court’s ruling is limited to the on-premises content, size, and affixing restrictions applicable to marijuana retailers, set out in RCW 69.50.369(2) and WAC 314- 55-155(2)(a). The lawful sale of recreational marijuana is relatively new, and it is perhaps not surprising if there is not much research into the effect of advertising on potential underage consumers. The Board could not address the constitutionality of the advertising restrictions. This Court can only say that, on this record, as supplemented, the advertising restrictions violate the U.S. and Washington constitutions. The Court’s ruling does not eliminate all advertising restrictions or suggest a free-for-all.

Go wild with the lights, weed dealers. The county court has your back.

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Comments on “Washington Court Says Local Pot Dealers Can Hang Up Christmas Lights That Spell 'POT'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

1,600 square inches

well, most laws and regulations are arbitrary and subject to interpretation… as are most court rulings.

so average citizens are left with a vast bewildering array of commands and revised counter-commands from legions of legislators, bureaucrats, and judges.

How’s all that sacred rule of law stuff workin’ for ya jn your daily life ?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Making pot legal may not be the best idea, but every other idea that has been tried is worse. The US government discovered in the 1920s that banning a drug merely funnels huge amounts of money to criminal organizations willing to supply the demand. Banning pot, and all of the other ‘recreational drugs’ has merely confirmed that finding. The "war on drugs" has been going on for 40 years now, and hasn’t made the slightest dent in the supply. What it has done is cost a hell of a lot, both in money and in lives destroyed.

Pretty much the only way to reduce drug use that has been shown to work is to legalize it, tax it, and treat the addiction problems as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue. That’s working with nicotine, and alcohol, so there’s no reason it can’t work with other drugs as well.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

What Chris says. I used to follow the prohibitionist line till someone asked me whether I wanted to solve the problem, or at least manage it more efficiently, or just put on the appearance of doing so. Then he pointed me to Portugal’s approach. From that day on, my attitude changed, as it always does when I’m confronted with evidence I can’t kick over. Legalise, tax, and regulate. Treat the more obviously dangerous stuff as a health issue.

As another commenter has pointed out, nobody ever croaked it from a marijuana overdose, while alcohol poisoning kills 6 people a day in the USA, mostly men. There’s not a corresponding binge culture where weed is concerned.

I still don’t like it, but if prohibition and scaring kids straight actually worked, I’d support those approaches. As it is, I’ll support the method that’s proven to actually work.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Politics continued

At some point, when enough states have done some sort of legalization, the federal representatives will have little recourse. They will either remove marijuana from whatever schedule it exits upon, or expect a removal from office. The aftermath of that is what is worth watching for.

How those already involved in the marijuana trade act will be worth watching. They will certainly use the incumbent IP laws to protected themselves, just as some entities have applied for and received patents on plants that have grown naturally for thousands of years, Your microbe different than my microbe is sufficient for you to owe me more than you, and your generations following you, could afford. And, because the process, the courts approve.

Courts have no (I would say balls but some might take that in the wrong way, so lets say chutzpah, which some others might take in the wrong way, but no inference is intended to either. That courts have ideology in mind rather than the law is what is at issue, and the courts, whether they like the recognition for it or not express ideology more often than not. They should not express it ever.

Paul B says:

Re: Politics continued

Why ever remove it? It was regulated because undesirables of the day used it and made a good weapon to imprison them to use as slave labor (still allowed under the constitution if convicted of a crime).

I mean your most likely correct that some day a majority of the states will make it legal. But as of right now it’s one of the less talked about Republican/Democratic issues and could be stuck in this limbo area for years to come.

Also the federal system hates giving up any power, and locking up pot smokers under federal charges is still something highly enjoyed by federal law enforcement. This is quite the lobby for keeping the status quo.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Politics continued

There is a lot of resistance to reform of drug laws, one major factor is there is a lot of money in it.
Humans are not known for doing the right thing, they are known for doing what is in their own self interest, no matter how ill-informed it may be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Politics culture


Politics is ALWAYS about values-judgments … and whatever current poltical faction/values controls the levers of government power.

A cultural shift will eventually occur and the drug hysteria will eventually become just a painful historical note — like slavery, female suffrage, and alcohol prohibition.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Politics continued

Courts have no (I would say balls but some might take that in the wrong way, so lets say chutzpah, which some others might take in the wrong way, but no inference is intended to either.

I can’t speak for all Jews, as we are not a monolith, but I’m extremely okay, even honored, that you would use the word chutzpah to describe something like this.

(FWIW, the semantic definition of "chutzpah" is more along the line of "gall", and the example that’s often given is a child who kills their parents then begs for mercy in front of a judge because they’re an orphan has chutzpah)

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Inarguably think of the children

The state argued its ban on POT in Christmas light form was crucial to the government’s "substantial interest" in "curtailing minor children’s interest in and exposure to the marijuana trade." Inarguably, this is a legitimate interest.

No, I think not. Either it’s LAWFUL or it’s UNLAWFUL. If it’s LAWFUL then there’s no need to "curtailing minor children yada yada yada." If it’s UNLAWFUL then yeah, minor children AND adults should be curtailed.

Take your most morally offensive things:

  • strip clubs
  • marijuana dispensaries
  • comic book stores with hentai
  • churches where priests molest children

Let me know where that line is… because for me that line is that if it is not in violation of the law it is perfectly fine.

Oh, but wait, you think strip clubs shouldn’t exist within 200 feet of a school (randomly picking on a local ordinance). Those kids walk more than 200 feet home… so I guess they still go by that strip club.

And Sundays they go to church.

Bring on the POT signs. They cause less harm than all the other things that can harm the Think Of The Children™ crowd.


TFG says:

Re: Inarguably think of the children

Let me know where that line is… because for me that line is that if it is not in violation of the law it is perfectly fine.

As a reminder, slavery was legal, and freeing slaves was illegal. Legality of the action is not a tried-and-true rubric for sole determination of when an action is moral, or beneficial.

I personally am on the side of legalization of marijuana, but that has more to do with the deleterious effects that making it illegal has had than any interest in the drug itself. I consider it essentially the same as alcohol, if perhaps slightly less destructively addictive – there are serious pitfalls to its consumption and there’s definitely good reason to discourage its use by underage parties.

What the government tried in this case, though, is not the way.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Qwertygiy says:

Re: Re: Inarguably think of the children

there are serious pitfalls to its consumption and there’s definitely good reason to discourage its use by underage parties.

I’m of the opinion that any drug that has a proven potential for long-term negative effects should not be used by a minor unless a doctor prescribes it. Everything from legally-allowed drugs like valium and adderall, to adult-allowed recreations like alcohol and tobacco, to the fairly unrestricted-yet-addictive caffeine.

Additionally, it doesn’t matter what you’re smoking, whether it’s weed, tobacco, wood, or anything else; the act of inhaling smoke is always going to be quite bad for your lungs. There are many potential benefits in marijuana, but nearly every other method of intake is safer and at least equally effective.

Except hypodermic intake. Don’t inject marijuanas, Becky. Especially not whole marijuanas. Not even one whole marijuana, Becky. Not even one.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Inarguably think of the children

@TFG, sorry mate, you’re misinformed. If you’re quoting Virginia law, slaves could be freed by a witnessed deed and could escape the ban on remaining in the state for more than a year (or face re-enslavement) if they could get a character reference. It has never been illegal to free slaves, but there have always been ways to make this difficult (manumission was restricted to persons over the age of 18 and under 45 as long as they were healthy). Excuse my pedantry.

I agree with the rest of your post as it reflects my own position.

Qwertygiy says:

Re: Inarguably think of the children

Let me take a moment to prune back your arguments a tad. Just looking at the logic, not the morality.

The strip club comparison is valid. It is an establishment that exists solely to sell something that is legal for adults but not for children. Regardless of how appropriate or inappropriate they think it is for adults, most people agree it should not be legal for children. Likewise, liquor stores, tobacco shops, and most bars would also meet this standard.

The hentai, not so much. Comic stores typically sell many things that are not only (uncontroversially) legal for children, but targeted specifically at children. It is not a valid comparison until you have places where marijuana products are sold alongside the likes of juice boxes and Skittles. Or, alternatively, if you are comparing it to a comic book store that exclusively targets adults and does not allow minors inside.

Somewhere in between the strip club/bar/dispensary, and the comic shop with porno mags in the back, are the likes of gas stations that sell lottery tickets, beer, and tobacco as well as candy, soda, and meals. They don’t market directly to children, and the kid-friendly products aren’t their primary purpose, but kids are still allowed to come in and buy those kid-friendly products while being forbidden from buying the adult products.

The church comparison, however, is much further off-target. Molesting people isn’t legal for anyone, anywhere in the United States. Nor is it remotely controversial that it should remain illegal to molest people, especially to molest children. A church’s stated purpose is never (or at least, I hope is never!) "come here to be molested", and if it is discovered that certain priests are abusing people, there’s very few people who could say logically or legally that those priests should remain free and unpunished.

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