Hempfest files lawsuit against Seattle cannabis board over new ad restrictions

Long-running cannabis festival Seattle Hempfest has filed a lawsuit against the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) due to new restrictions on advertisements, saying the agency has infringed on their right to free speech.

WSLCB enacted new ad restrictions in April under Initiative 502, the law that initially legalized recreational cannabis in the state in 2013. The restrictions prohibit any cannabis business from posting signs or advertisements within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, library or public park.

This spells trouble for businesses at Hempfest, which now cannot post any kind of sign that shows support for the festival that takes place at Myrtle Edwards and Centennial public parks.

According to Hempfest’s lawsuit, the WSLCB in April “embarked on a campaign to actively dissuade licensed marijuana businesses from participating at Seattle Hempfest by issuing vague and confusing pronouncements that have the effect of intimidating licensed marijuana businesses from participating at Seattle Hempfest.”

While WSLCB agreed in 2016 that businesses at Hempfest could have signs with their business name on them without cannabis warnings, according to the lawsuit, the new bulletin in April changes that, now saying that messaging should not refer or promote cannabis businesses or its products.

“We believe that the new interpretation of Washington State’s 502 ad guidelines is so overreaching and restrictive as to be unconstitutional,” Hempfest Director Vivian McPeak said in a statement.

“It is imperative that Washingtonians have access [to] 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.”

Hempfest says that businesses will also not be able to post signs that include information on scientific studies on cannabis.

Seattle Events, Universal Holdings LLC and Multiverse Holdings are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The 28th annual Hempfest is scheduled for August 16th to 18th this year. It has labelled itself as a “protestival” given its mission of protesting cannabis prohibition over the years and has drawn up to 100,000 visitors. While no cannabis is allowed to be sold at the festival, it is a celebration of the drug that includes food, musical acts and vendor booths.

The festival got so big over its history that it designated itself a “constitutionally protected free speech event,” which allows it to be held in a public park.

WSLCB spokesperson Stephanie Davidsmeyer told the Seattle Times that they have not received a copy of the lawsuit yet and the board’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.


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Eric is an experienced journalist that enjoys cannabis for its many creative benefits. He has written for Global News, Post City magazine, The Grid and many more blogs.

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