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Newspaper Drops Cannabis Ads After Postal Service Warning

December 10, 2015

Just when it seemed the feds had adopted a hands-off approach to cannabis enforcement in states with legal use, a recent memo from, of all places, the U.S. Postal Service is stoking confusion in the Northwest.

At least one newspaper has already pulled cannabis-related advertisements from its pages following a USPS warning that the ads risk violating federal law. Members of Congress are also reaching out to Postal Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., to clarify the agency’s stance. 

The Chinook Observer, a weekly newspaper in Washington state, was delivered the memo last week. “If a mailpiece contains an advertisement for marijuana,” it warns, “that mailpiece is nonmailable.” 

In response, the paper has removed cannabis ads from editions that are delivered to subscribers by mail. About half the Observer’s subscriptions go through the mail, according to Steve Forrester, president and CEO of Oregon-based EO Media, which publishes the Observer.

The company also reached out elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who, along with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer, sent a Dec. 3 letter to the Postal Service.

This warning, the lawmakers write, “seems to prohibit mailers USPS previously allowed.” The letter asks the agency to identify the “specific statutory authority” that gives it the authority to restrict advertisements for businesses that are legal in both Washington and Oregon.

“Small businesses and community newspapers rely on advertising to be successful, and our interest is to ensure those businesses have a clear understanding of the Postal Service policies regarding mailed advertisements for marijuana products,” it says.

As of Thursday afternoon, the USPS had failed to provide a response, a Wyman staffer told Leafly. The agency didn’t respond to our requests for comment. 

For now, most newspapers are operating as usual, waiting to see how the Postal Service responds. But just as criminal charges against isolated patients stir up panic within the medical cannabis community, any action taken against the Observer would send other newspapers scrambling.

The Observer’s cannabis ads are printed in a weekly publication, Coast Weekend, which is also included in editions of the Oregon-based Daily Astorian. Forrester, who serves as editor and publisher of that paper, said those editions would proceed as planned — at least for now.

“We haven’t made any changes here at the Astorian,” he said Wednesday.

Forrester acknowledged the advertisements provide important revenue to a struggling industry. “It’s new revenue,” he said, “and new is a good thing these days.”