Pubdate: Tue, 22 Dec 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Lisa Rein


Newspapers in half the states are breaking the law if they mail 
publications containing ads for marijuana products - even though the 
states have legalized pot, the U.S. Postal Service said last week.

This parsing of federal law, released by postal officials as national 
policy after inquiries from Oregon's congressional delegation, is one 
of the messy consequences of the movement to legalize cannabis: It's 
bought, sold and advertised for recreational and medical use in some 
states but still illegal under federal law.

The confusion started in Portland, Ore., where local newspapers have 
been running ads for dispensaries and manufacturers in the state's 
now-booming weed industry after voters legalized recreational pot for 
adults last year, following medical pot in 1998.

In November, Portland's postal district issued a memo to newspaper 
publishers, telling them they are breaking the law by running ads for 
pot and using the U.S. mail to deliver their papers.

The reason? The U.S. Postal Service is a federal entity. Even though 
Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska have legalized recreational 
marijuana and 23 other states have legalized medical pot, any 
newspaper running ads in those states violates a federal law 
preventing advertising for illicit goods.

The advertising ban, first reported by the Bulletin of Bend, Ore., 
prompted an angry letter to postal officials from most Democrats in 
the state's congressional delegation to figure out what was going on. 
Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, and Sens. Ron Wyden and 
Jeff Merkley, accused the Postal Service in a joint statement of 
being rigid and said the agency should respect the voters' decision 
to legalize pot.

"We are working as a delegation to quickly find the best option to 
address this agency's intransigence," the four Democrats wrote, 
according to published reports. "Unfortunately, the outdated federal 
approach to marijuana as described in the response from the Postal 
Service undermines and threatens news publications that choose to 
accept advertising from legal marijuana businesses in Oregon and 
other states where voters also have freely decided to legalize marijuana."

A top Postal Service wrote back last week.

"Based on our review of the [law], we have concluded that 
advertisements for the sale of marijuana are non-mailable," wrote 
Thomas Marshall, USPS general counsel and executive vice president, 
according to published reports.

Marijuana is listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act with 
heroin and other drugs. It prohibits advertisements in "any 
newspaper, magazine, handbill, or other publications," Marshall wrote.

"These provisions express Congress's judgment that the mail should 
not be used as a means of transmitting advertisements for the sale of 
marijuana, even if that sale is allowed under state law," he said.

But there's a twist. The Postal Service apparently has no authority 
to stop the mailers if their publications contain pot ads. The new 
policy directs postmasters to send a report to the local U.S. Postal 
Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the Postal Service.

The matter would, in theory, then be turned over to a law enforcement 
agency for prosecution, although it's unclear whether this kind of 
crime would be prosecuted. Federal authorities have generally not 
cracked down on pot sales in states where pot is legal.

The policy means that pot ads are off-limits to newspapers and other 
businesses that use the Postal Service to deliver papers, as well as 
direct-mail companies that work with the cannabis industry on advertising.

Some local newspapers said the policy will cut into the bottom line 
of businesses struggling for revenue in the declining publishing industry.

"For our weekly in Washington state, Chinook Observer, it's a large 
deal," Steve Forrester, president and chief executive of the EO Media 
Group, which publishes the Observer, based in Long Beach, Wash., told 
the Bulletin this month. "They're about a 6,000 circulation [paper]. 
Half of it goes through the mail, which is true of a lot of rural weeklies."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom