U.S. Postal Service Memo Warns Newspapers That Cannabis Ads May Violate Federal Law

Published on December 6, 2015 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Last week the United States Postal Service issued a memo out of its Portland offices with a warning to newspapers stating that continuing to print paid advertisements for marijuana dispensaries could put them in violation of the United States federal government, even if the newspaper is printed in a state where cannabis is legal.

The memo specifies that it is illegal to “place an ad in any publication with the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy, or distribute a Schedule I controlled substance.” Newspapers in legal states, such as Washington and Colorado, have been accepting payment on advertisements for legal retail shops, as well as medical marijuana dispensaries in the region without legal repercussions. Now staff are reeling from the memo and wondering what prompted the cryptic reminder.

For all intents and purposes, the memo simply serves as a reminder that the federal government still reigns over state law. The USPS notes that enforcement of federal laws is solely up to the Drug Enforcement Administration under the Department of Justice, so it remains to be seen if this memo serves as a simple warning or if there is a more ominous undertone to the letter.

If the postal service refuses to deliver newspapers with marijuana advertising in them, this could have a huge impact on news outlets searching for additional revenue. Legal cannabis has been pumping fresh lifeblood into an industry that’s facing big challenges in a digital era, and taking away an extra source of income could mean a stunning blow to newspapers, particularly smaller papers in rural areas that rely on the postal service to make deliveries.

So far, the only publication outlets that have received the memo are based in Oregon, but if the United States Postal Service decides to make this an agency-wide mandate, it could mean a major loss of revenue for newspapers and yet another advertising window closed for marijuana businesses seeking to legitimize the industry.

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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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