U.S. Postal Service Warns Newspapers Not to Run Pot Ads

While almost everyone is aware by now that conflicting state and federal law makes it highly illegal to transport weed through the mail, some have been surprised to learn that it is also apparently a violation  to use the United States Postal Service to distribute advertisements for the marijuana industry.

A report published this week in The Bulletin indicates that the U.S. Postal Service in Portland recently published a warning to newspapers across the city suggesting that running ads pertaining to cannabis might bring some heat down courtesy of the federal government. The memo, which uses a snippet from the Controlled Substances Act, says running an “Ad in any publication with the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy, or distribute a Schedule I controlled substances” is a violation of federal law.

Of course, this development invoked a great deal of panic in unsuspecting publishers doing business in the Portland area. Some of the newspapers there have been working with marijuana operations for years marketing their goods and services in the same way they would with other industries. However, the message coming from the USPS, which calls its recent memo a “reminder of existing federal law,” is that all of these transactions have been against the law.

Unfortunately, the inability for some smaller newspapers to generate revenue by working with the local marijuana market could spell trouble for their bottom line.

“If the postal service, which delivers newspapers for some subscribers, refused to deliver papers with marijuana ads in them, it could have a potential chilling effect on news outlets that are scrambling to find new revenue,” The Bulletin reported.

However, a couple of Oregon lawmakers are working to get to the bottom of the controversy. Representative Earl Blumenauer and Senator Ron Wyden, who are calling the memo “an outdated interpretation” of the law, are reportedly in talks with the USPS to bring some clarity to the issue.

“Both the senator and congressman expect an explanation as soon as possible and are committed to working toward a resolution that reflects the decision made by their constituents at the ballot box to legalize and regulate marijuana,” a Wyden spokesman said in a statement.

A number of publishers say the memo will not have any impact on their work because they have always maintained a no marijuana advertising policy in order to appease the majority of their readership. Others have simply altered their advertising policies to keep the word “marijuana” out of ads for dispensaries. Meanwhile, other news organizations have opted to stop working with the cannabis industry for the time being because they are fearful that the USPS might seize their newspapers.

Although the USPS memo may have publishers operating in legal marijuana states nervous about their dealings with the cannabis industry, it is important to consider that the Controlled Substances Act does not ban all marijuana-related advertising. In fact, it specifies, “The term “advertisement” does not include material which merely advocates the use of a similar material, which advocates a position or practice, and does not attempt to propose or facilitate an actual transaction in a Schedule I controlled substance.”

After all, the USPS has been shipping High Times magazines through the mail for decades.

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