Lumber Yard store refuses to remove pot display

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Kitson owner Fraser Ross refuses to take down a marijuana-themed Christmas display, saying it is playful and an example of freedom of expression. Julie Ellerton / TMT

A marijuana-themed Christmas display at the clothing store Kitson in the Malibu Lumber Yard shopping center has drawn criticism from parents of young children who say it is inappropriate. But the shop’s owner refuses to remove it, arguing the display is an expression of free speech.

By Homaira Shifa / Special to The Malibu Times

A marijuana-themed Christmas display in a store at the Malibu Lumber Yard shopping center has caused some parents to complain to the city and the mall’s owners that it is offensive and should be removed. However, the store’s owner says the display is an expression of free speech and refuses to take it down.

The display was put up in the window of Kitson, a clothing and apparel store, several weeks ago. It consists of a cabinet painted with psychedelic colors, a peace sign and the words “Pot Brownie.” Above the cabinet, the words “High ho, high ho, off to the North Pole we go,” were painted on the window.

Kitson’s owner Fraser Ross said the store first started hearing complaints from parents taking their children to a dance studio in the shopping center. The phrase “for medical purposes you know” was then painted on the window to emphasize the store was referring to the legal use of medicinal marijuana.

The Malibu Times has been unable to reach any of the specific parents opposed to the display, but the mall’s owners and city officials confirmed that they have received complaints.

Daniel Blatteis, who owns the shopping center with Richard Weintraub, has contacted Kitson to take the sign down due to the number of complaints received by parents.

“We’re disappointed,” Blatteis said. “It sends a wrong message to the community at large. We have told Kitson they must remove the signage. It is not in keeping of the quality nature of the project. We are upset over the uproar it has caused in the community.”

But Ross refuses to take down the display, viewing it as a matter of free speech.

“Windows are an interpretation,” Ross said. “As long as you’re not slandering anyone we should be free to put up what we want.”

Ross compared the opposition to the display to a similar controversy in June, when a Niketown store in Boston, Mass., drew criticism for displaying T-shirts with drug references in its shop windows. And he added that if any young children were capable of grasping the marijuana innuendo, “there’s something wrong there anyway.”

City Manager Jim Thorsen originally told The Malibu Times last week that the display was “done in poor taste” and was in the process of coming down. But Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski said window signs are allowed in the city as long as they are in compliance with city rules.

“The city does not regulate content,” Parker-Bozylinski said. “As long as they are following sign ordinance of location, size and number of signs, they are not in violation of any rules and we cannot ask them to take it down.”

The situation is unique because the city owns the property the mall was built on. It leases the land to mall co-owners Blatteis and Weintraub, who then dole out sub-leases to individual stores. However, Thorsen ruled out any notion that the city would attempt to act as a landlord to require the display to be removed.

“[Weintraub and Blatteis] are responsible for the things that go on between their tenants and the master lessee,” Thorsen said. “And they’re addressing that in whatever fashion is appropriate. At this time it’s strictly between the tenant and the master lessee.”

Ross said Kitson, which operates several stores in Southern California, has placed similar provocative displays in its other stores that he characterized as playful.

“I just think that there’s more problems in Malibu than worrying about a window, such as homelessness,” Ross said. “If anyone is really upset about the fixture, they can buy it from us for $5,000 and we will donate the money to the local homeless shelter.”