Hempfest advertisers have filed a lawsuit against the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board over what they claim are vague and restricting rules that infringe the right to free speech
As the 28th annual Hempfest in Seattle approaches, tensions are mounting in response to new advertising restrictions introduced in April by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLBC) and a lawsuit has even been filed.
Hempfest is a protest festival that has been held in Seattle public parks for the last 27 years. It obtains a city permit to hold the event and does not allow cannabis sales on site. More than 100,000 patrons are said to gather to listen to musical guests, check out vendor booths and enjoy all things cannabis.
Unlike previous years, though, this year the WSLBC banned advertising under Initiative 502, which prohibits signs or other advertisements for any cannabis business within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, library or public park.
This prompted a lawsuit, for which Seattle Events, Universal Holdings LLC and Multiverse Holdings are listed as the plaintiffs. The lawsuit alleges the new restrictions “actively” deter licensed businesses from participating or sponsoring the long-time festival.
The issue runs deep, with the lawsuit claiming a potential freedom of speech infringement. Fred Diamondstone, lawyer for Seattle Events, explained to the Seattle Times why city parks are important public forums under the state and U.S. constitution.
“City parks are the quintessential public forums that have been recognized as free speech areas under the Washington and federal constitutions, for time immemorial,” Diamondstone wrote.
The lawsuit argues the restrictions around signage are “vague and confusing”, interfering with advertising the event and affecting educational materials that are usually available at Hempfest, set for Aug. 16 to 18. When asked for comment Stephanie Davidsmeyer, a communications consultant for the WSLBC, told Seattle Times the board does not comment on pending litigation and that it had not received the lawsuit at that time.
In a media release, Vivian McPeak, executive director at Seattle Hempfest, said it appears that the guidelines are overreacting, restrictive and unconstitutional. “To single out particular speakers and businesses and prevent them from speaking on matters of public debate has been condemned in numerous U.S. Supreme Court cases,” added McPeak.
The lawsuit hopes to resolve the advertising restrictions prior to the event, but the issue of free speech is clearly central to the challenge of regulation RCW 69.50.369.
RCW 69.50.369(1): 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.
Want to keep up to date on what’s happening in the world of cannabis? Subscribe to the Cannabis Post newsletter for weekly insights into the industry, what insiders will be talking about and content from across the Postmedia Network.