A year old lawsuit over a string of holiday lights in a dispensary window came to a head this month, and could reshape Washington State cannabis advertising law for years to come.
When a Washington State cannabis dispensary strung out a string of holiday twinkly lights to spell out “POT” in the store’s window, shop owners didn’t think that the decorations would cause a stir. But little did they know, the festive window dressing would spur a year-long legal fight with state regulators, and potentially shift cannabis advertising law across Washington.
According to the Stranger, officials with Washington’s Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) reached out to the Hashtag Cannabis dispensary in Redmond, WA late last year, claiming that the organized lights constituted a promotional sign, and therefore was not legal under state law. The LCB told the business to remove the lights and charged the dispensary a $2,500 fine for the infraction.
But while Hashtag’s operators decided to comply and remove the lights, they did not take the fine lying down, and instead filed a lawsuit against the LCB. Now, a whole year later, a local judge ruled in favor of the dispensary, allowing them to put up a new set of lights this holiday season, and opening the door for other out-of-the-box advertising experiments in Washington’s legal weed industry.
“I was just really pissed. We were frustrated with being dicked around,” Hashtag co-owner Logan Bowers told the Stranger. “Sometimes doing the right thing costs a ton and it’s a little bit of a bummer.”
Washington State cannabis law allows dispensaries to two signs per business, as long as the signage is permanently affixed and fits the LCB’s sizing guidelines. In the original complaint, regulators complained that the string lights violated all three outside advertising stipulations.
In court, LCB officials said that the state’s signage rules were in place to discourage underage use and promotional pot advertising. But when it came time for King County Superior Judge David Keenan to make a ruling, he sided with the dispensary, and argued that the state’s arbitrary cannabis advertising rules – which restrict in-store signage more strictly than highway billboards – were not “directly and materially advancing the state’s interest.”
“Here, given that, based on the state’s own evidence, parts of the advertising restrictions actually undermine rather than advance the state’s interest in preventing underage consumption, the court concludes that [the law’s] restrictions on the content, size, and manner of affixing on-premises advertising do not directly and materially advance the asserted interest,” Judge Keenan said.
Judge Keenan’s ruling was handed down last month, but the LCB was given until this week to appeal the decision. The statewide agency has now forgone that option, cementing the string light’s legality and potentially upending cannabis advertising law across the state. LCB officials said that they are currently working to change and implement advertising rules to match the new ruling.
“We are currently discussing how to implement the decision,” LCB spokesperson Brian Smith told the Stranger. “Once an internal decision is made, we will notify our staff and licensees.”
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