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.