No refuge in the (green) cross and no pot leaf either

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Tacoma cannabis retailers weigh in on new advertising rules

By Tami Jackson
tjackson@tacomaweekly.com

There’s a new law in town and it’s forcing some local businesses to change their storefront signs, advertising campaigns and marketing habits – or else! The new Washington Administrative Code (WAC 314-55-155) states that all marijuana advertising materials must not contain any wording or pictures that might possibly appeal to children – or even to goats, evidently, since even a simple drawing of a cannabis leaf on a business sign is now illegal.

“We’ve had to remove our flags, A-boards, sign spinners and revamp the layout of our billboard advertising to comply with the new regulations,” said Alden Linn, owner of World of Weed. Linn is also a member of Cannabis Organization of Retail Establishments (CORE) so he was actively voicing his viewpoint while this legislation was being drafted. Linn said that while he is disappointed with the final outcome of legislation, he is at least relieved when even worse options were overlooked after initially being put on the proverbial table.

While some Tacoma stores like Mary Mart were not using the marijuana leaf in their advertising and therefore were not financially affected by new legislation, other stores were impacted to varying degrees. Gary Narwal, operation manager at Diamond Green, said his store had an inflatable man with the word “marijuana” on it and the new law dictated its demise.

Legislators put a muzzle on
Scooby Doo and Cheech and Chong too.

The new legislation also states that depicting “over consumption” will not be allowed in retail outlets. That would seem to suggest that cannabis retail shops would be very careful in how they promote a Cheech and Chong meet-and-greet event and they might not want to play “Scooby dooby doo!” sound tracks. Most retailers think those kinds of requests by our government would seem somewhat reasonable given the guidelines laid out in the Cole Memo, which protects children from advertising.

Yet the restrictions after that “over consumption” clause is where the new advertising rules begin to get a bit wonky. Retailers are being stopped from advertising medical marijuana as a viable therapeutic treatment. That’s in spite of the fact that doctors can prescribe cannabis for treating a long list of medical ailments.

According to the Department of Health, marijuana is a legal therapeutic treatment for cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, other seizure and spasticity disorders, PTSD and traumatic brain injury as well as chronic renal failure requiring hemodialysis. Cannabis is also a legally documented treatment that doctors can prescribe for relieving debilitating conditions not relieved by standard treatments or medications. Those cannabis-treated conditions include intractable pain, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, Hepatitis C, anorexia and more. (Source: Department of Health: (Tinyurl.com/y85vyxgz).

Take up your cross and throw it away!

Beyond avoiding wording that might suggest any “curative or therapeutic effect” in their marketing or advertising, medical marijuana retail shops are now forced to remove the green cross symbol from their storefronts. The green cross has long been emblematic of nature, life and first aid as well as a sign to the community that a cannabis retailer serves the medical consumer.

This aspect of the new ruling affected Margie’s Pot Shop in Bingen and other Tacoma retailers directly. “My liquor board agent came to the store and told my staff that the green cross on my door had to be removed by the end of business that day,” said Margie Lemberger, retailer. “The green cross has nothing to do with children so I called my LCB agent and he told me that it was considered a medical symbol and that the Department of Health has decided that no medical symbols could be on (the storefront).”

Mikhail Carpenter, spokesperson with the Liquor and Cannabis Board, further explained why there’s no way to find refuge in the cross. The Department of Health is a federal and not state-run organization (pot is illegal federally and not by state). Carpenter added that this same kind of ruling mirrors the thinking behind marijuana producers being prevented from labeling their plant products as certified organic. That certification only comes from a federal agency so it cannot be used in this state’s cannabis market, he said.

Yet soon after the legislation passed, the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) notified World of Weed that a complaint had already been filed about the marijuana leaf in their logo. “They came back to me and said it was unfounded until they get clarification on the new WAC,” Linn said.

“The question and answer portion of the new law explains that if you’re a cannabis retailer and you have a donkey for a logo, it’s completely legal and fine unless that donkey is attractive to children,” Carpenter said. Yet, try to imagine a donkey that might not attract a child’s attention and only the political symbol of the Democratic party comes to mind; hence more questions.

Carpenter said that one of the catalysts for this new legislation came from complaints made to the LCB.  The complaints came from citizens, local law enforcement, local government, competing businesses and more.

Rumor among cannabis business owners suggested that signage on a cannabis retailer’s building might be able to be grandfathered in if the marijuana store used cannabis signage when it first launched. Yet various officials from the state legislature clarified that nobody is grandfathered in. All stores must rake up their leaf signage and compost it with the rest of the forbidden images.

According to Carpenter, the only businesses that are allowed to hang signs with cannabis leaves on them would be those not regulated by the LCB. So a cannabis magazine, T-shirt shop or other creative venue could display a pot leaf in its outdoor advertising but not a cannabis retailer or producer.

Any readers who want to read WAC 314-55-155 in its entirety may visit the Washington State Legislator’s website (tinyurl.com/yc4263pr).

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you, Tammy for writing this. It is difficult dealing with the governing bodies. And Now we have the Department of Health making new rules for us, too. I also got a letter from the WA State Attorney General Office telling us we cannot make medical claims. So The WA State Department of health requires the Licensed Medical Marijuana consultants to take their $550 classes about the medical uses of marijuana, 20 HOURS OF CE. They also require patients to get Medical Marijuana Recognition cards after an exam by a doctor. Too many different government agencies making too many conflicting rules.

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