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Postal Service: Mailing marijuana ads is illegal

  • Author: Laurel Andrews
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 8, 2015

After news broke last week that the U.S. Postal Service had warned Oregon newspapers against mailing marijuana advertisements, a USPS district representative said Monday that sending marijuana ads is illegal in Alaska too.

Last week, after the Portland district sent out its directive, the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association sent a letter to its members discouraging papers from accepting "any type of marijuana advertising," The Oregonian reported.

On Monday, Alaska district spokesman Ernie Swanson confirmed that Alaska is subject to the same restrictions.

"The law applies to all states. It applies to all marijuana ads. It is a federal law," Swanson wrote in an email.

All ads promoting the sale of marijuana -- whether brochures, postcards or newspaper inserts -- are considered illegal by the postal service, Swanson wrote. The act is a felony, according to the national statement emailed by Swanson.

Marijuana Control Board Chair Bruce Schulte said the directive is "troubling" but "not terribly surprising."

"How is it that the states have zero autonomy in issues like this except when the (federal) government grants them autonomy?" Schulte said.

Swanson did not say what the potential penalties are or how USPS will enforce the law. A call to another supervisor was not returned Tuesday. The Portland memo notes, though, that the Drug Enforcement Agency will be the primary enforcement agency.

For now, though, the issue still lingers far on the horizon.

"I don't think that it's going to become [an] issue that cannot be reversed," said Tina Smith, COO at the Wasilla-based marijuana business Midnight Greenery, noting that members of Oregon's congressional delegation had penned a letter deriding the postal service's decision.

Midnight Greenery had planned to send out mailers eventually, Smith said, but that "can be worked around" she said. Word-of-mouth and social media especially has been a major driver for the company, she said.

"To me, it's one more example of the challenges of trying to create state rules around a legal and regulated substance that's illegal at the federal level," said Alcoholic Beverage and Marijuana Control Board Director Cynthia Franklin.

Perhaps the most pressing issue is banking practices. With marijuana illegal under federal law, businesses are locked out of registering bank accounts. Alaska's tax division has been looking for creative ways to deal with an influx in cash.

'Seems odd to me'

Whether this advertising ban will become an issue for newspapers and businesses nationwide remains to be seen.

Alaska Dispatch News has run no ads promoting sales of marijuana, according Maia Nolan-Partnow, director of sales and special content. It's "definitely something we'll have to keep in mind as cannabis businesses come on line, since we do mail a handful of copies" of the newspaper, she wrote.

The Anchorage Press, which has run advertisements for marijuana delivery service Absolutely Chronic Delivery Company, did not return a call or email asking whether USPS' position would affect its publication.

Not all advertisements are banned -- the law "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." Marijuana magazine High Times noted that the postal service has been delivering it for decades.

In Colorado, newspapers have not had any warnings similar to Oregon, said Colorado Press Association CEO Jerry Raehal.

The organization's attorney advised it not to take any action unless the issue is addressed by the national U.S. Postal Office, Raehal said.

Should Colorado receive the same warnings, "the impact … would be significant" for some publications, he said.

"It seems odd to me that the post office seems to want to drive away customers," Raehal added.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa Murkowski's spokeswoman, Karina Petersen, said the issue isn't on their radar. Sen. Dan Sullivan did not return a request for comment.

Rep. Don Young's spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, said that Young supports current legislation that would remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I controlled substances and that he supports states' rights in regards to marijuana policy.

At the same time, Young "believes that we need to consider safe, responsible restrictions on advertisements," Shuckerow said.