Thursday, February 4, 2016

Huffman Backs Bill to get USPS off our Backs

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 3:24 PM

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Last month, the U.S. Postal Service contacted the Journal to tell us we were breaking federal law by including medical marijuana advertisements in our paper, which is mailed to subscribers through the USPS. Those advertisements, of course, are legal in the state of California. 

We decided to continue business as usual; read NCJ news editor Thadeus Greenson's editorial about the USPS threats. Apparently other papers in Oregon and Washington received similar warnings, with the USPS threatening to refer them for possible federal prosecution.

All of this caught the attention of federal lawmakers. North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman's office contacted the Journal today to let us know he had joined with Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Ron Wyden to introduce a bill that would allow written marijuana ads to be mailed via USPS in the states where it's medically or recreationally legal — furthering President Barack Obama's orders that federal law enforcers not interfere with legal marijuana activity in legal states, as well as Congress' defunding of Justice Department marijuana enforcement in those states.

According to a release from Wyden and Blumenauer's office, "small businesses and community newspapers rely on the USPS to reach their customers, especially in rural areas."

Read the full press release below:

In the last few years, voters in Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska overwhelmingly approved initiatives to legalize the adult use and sale of marijuana. Additionally, 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have legalized full medical marijuana programs, and 17 more states have approved more limited medical marijuana programs. In many of these states, state-approved dispensaries are up and running, bringing the industry out of the shadows of the black market and creating a safe, regulated system in much of America.

Marijuana and Federal Law:

Despite passage of these state laws, marijuana remains stuck in the past as a federally designated Schedule I substance which means it is a felony to distribute, possess or consume it. Recognizing this discrepancy, the Obama Administration issued a memorandum in 2013 which held so long as certain enforcement criteria were met, federal law enforcement entities would not interfere with legal state marijuana activity. Congress then followed suit and barred the Department of Justice from expending resources in contravention of state medical marijuana laws.

Advertising Written Marijuana Products:

According to Section 403(c)(1) of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it is unlawful for anyone to place an advertisement for a Schedule I substance, including a medical marijuana product, in any newspaper, magazine, handbill or other publication, even if that activity is legal under state law. This creates a legally conflicted reality in states where marijuana is legal for those marijuana businesses that seek to advertise in local newspapers, as well as for the many newspapers around the country that rely on advertising revenue.

Recent Postal Service Policy:

In December 2015, the United States Postal Service (USPS) declared that it is illegal to mail any items, including newspapers, which contain advertisements offering to buy or sell marijuana, even if the marijuana related activity is in compliance with a state law. Further, the USPS stated that if it uncovers any items deemed to be “non-mailable,” it would report the item to the Postal Inspection Service, which would refer it to a law enforcement agency for investigation. Despite the 2013 Obama Administration memo indicating federal law enforcement would not interfere, these businesses are concerned. Small businesses and community newspapers rely on the USPS to reach their customers, especially in rural areas. The USPS policy could have the effect of stopping all written marijuana advertisements in states that have already made the decision to legalize marijuana.

What the Bill Does:

The Marijuana Advertising in Legal States Act creates an exception to Section 403(c)(1) of the CSA to allow for the written advertisement of an activity without triggering federal law enforcement actions, involving marijuana, if the activity is in compliance with state law. This bill amends the section of the CSA that addresses written advertisements.

This Legislation is Supported By:

Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access 

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About The Author

Grant Scott-Goforth

Bio:
Grant Scott-Goforth has been an assistant editor and staff writer for The Journal since 2013.

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