Isa Sorensen

Seattle Hempfest Sues Washington Liquor & Cannabis Board

Organizers of Seattle’s Hempfest are suing the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board over the regulators’ new interpretations of advertising restrictions, which advocates say violate their first amendment right to free speech.

Full story after the jump.

Seattle Hempfest’s parent company, Seattle Events, and two licensed businesses are suing the Washington State Liquor Control board (WSLCB), contending the state legislature and WSLCB violated their first amendment rights.

The lawsuit stems from SB 5131, passed in 2017, and the WSLCB’s subsequent interpretation of state regulations. According to the Hempfest press release, the WSLCB issued Bulletin 19-01, interpreting the 2017 legislation in respect to “signs,” essentially barring cannabis retailers from displaying signs with the business name, or literature discussing cannabis science or potential cannabis public policy reforms.

“We believe that the new interpretation of Washington State’s I-502 ad guidelines are so overreaching and restrictive as to be unconstitutional,” said Vivian McPeak, Hempfest’s longtime director.

“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.” — McPeak, in the press release

The United States Supreme Court has a mixed record of protecting free speech in advertising. In the case Posadas de Puerto Rico v. Tourism Company, Puerto Rico banned gambling advertising to Puerto Rico citizens. The Court upheld the ban on the argument that if Puerto Rico could ban gambling, they could ban gambling advertising as well. Another case, United States v. Edge Broadcasting, involving lottery advertisements over state lines, said so-called “vice products” were not protected under the Constitution and therefore neither is advertising for said products. 

Other cases, however — like 44 Liquormart v. Rhode Island and Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly — uphold a business’ right to advertise more regulated products such as tobacco and alcohol.

 

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