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Lawmakers Question Postal Service About Marijuana Ad Threats to Newspapers

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A group of members of Congress is demanding the U.S. Postal Service explain a memo it recently issued warning newspapers not to mail any publications containing advertisements for marijuana.

“It appears a clarification of USPS policy is needed for state-legal marijuana businesses who seek to mail advertisements, as well as newspapers or periodicals that may run ads from marijuana businesses and who rely on the Postal Service to distribute their publications,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter on Thursday.

Signing on are U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, along with U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici. All four Oregon Democrats have sponsored cannabis law reform legislation this year.

“Small businesses and community newspapers rely on advertising to be successful, and our interest is to ensure that these businesses have a clear understanding” of when and how USPS intends to punish publishers who print and mail cannabis ads, says the letter, which is addressed to Postmaster General Megan Brennan.

The USPS memo in question, dated November 27, says 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.”

The one-page document was prepared by the Postal Service’s Portland District office and was reportedly delivered to a number of news organizations in Oregon, where legal recreational marijuana sales began two months ago.

“Regardless of how you feel about our failed prohibition of marijuana, every American should agree that the U.S. Postal Service should not be censoring what is or is not published in newspapers,” Blumenauer, who has led House efforts to allow medical cannabis access for military veterans, told Marijuana.com via email.

The USPS memo isn’t the first time federal authorities have levied threats against news organizations for working with marijuana providers. In 2011 a federal prosecutor in California issued a warning to media outlets over marijuana ads, though never followed through by brining charges or seizing assets.

The new document “seems to prohibit mailers that USPS had previously allowed,” the members of Congress wrote to Brennan. “In order to ensure both the integrity of the USPS and the many businesses that this policy impacts in Oregon, an explanation of how or why the decision to restrict all advertising for marijuana products and businesses outlined in the document would be helpful.”

The lawmakers say they want the postmaster general to answer several questions, such as whether USPS intends the memo to have legal effect in all 50 states. “If not, is it customary for individual districts to create their own policies that may contradict how other districts are operating?” they ask. “What discretion does a regional postmaster have in enforcing or implementing these policies, specifically in states where marijuana is legal?”

They also invoke a Congressionally-approved budget rider that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. “DEA would arguably not be able to enforce polices regarding the in-state mailing of advertisements for state-legal medical marijuana products,” the letter reads. “If this is a policy with legal effect in all 50 states, then why is the USPS helping to uphold laws in medical marijuana state that cannot be enforced by the DEA per the appropriations language?”

The letter ends with an ominous question possibly intended to uncover evidence the Department of Justice isn’t abiding by Congress’s medical marijuana interference ban.  “Did the USPS cooperate with anyone at DEA or DOJ in establishing this policy? If so, please detail the nature of this cooperation.”

The Postal Service has not yet commented on the lawmakers’ letter or on the memo itself.

Read the full letter from the members of Congress below.

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