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Legislation Addresses Postal Service Marijuana Ad Ban

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A group of members of both chambers of Congress has introduced a pair of bills aimed at stopping the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) from threatening newspapers that mail marijuana ads.

Late last year USPS officials in Oregon sent a notice to newspaper publishers in the area warning them 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.”

That was soon followed up with a national policy detailing that USPS employees across the country still need to accept marijuana ads if customers insist on mailing them, but that they should then report the matter to investigation and enforcement authorities.

Now, however, lawmakers who support marijuana law reform are pushing House and Senate legislation, titled the Marijuana Advertising In Legal States (MAILS) Act, to make it so newspapers can mail marijuana advertisements without legal risk.

“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,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said in floor remarks upon introducing his version of the bill. “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, which would be a blow to newspapers and small businesses that are already struggling financially.”

Wyden’s legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Patty Murray (D-WA). On the House side, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), joined by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).

“Marijuana remains stuck in the past as a Schedule I substance at the federal level,” Blumenauer said on the floor while introducing his version of the legislation. “There are certainly important questions that need to be answered about how to best regulate marijuana and advertisements, to ensure it does not get in the hands of children and that it is delivered in a safe, regulated system. It is not the job of USPS to answer these questions. Until we can change the way that marijuana is treated at the federal level to allow the federal government to be a constructive partner in answering these questions, this legislation will help to ensure that they stay out of the way.”

The bills, if enacted, would amend a portion of the Controlled Substances Act that now reads:

It shall be unlawful for any person to place in any newspaper, magazine, handbill, or other publications, any written advertisement knowing that it has the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy, or distribute a Schedule I controlled substance. As used in this section the term “advertisement” includes, in addition to its ordinary meaning, such advertisements as those for a catalog of Schedule I controlled substances and any similar written advertisement that has the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy, or distribute a Schedule I controlled substance. The term “advertisement” 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 in a Schedule I controlled substance.

The new legislation simply adds a sentence saying that that provision “does not apply to an advertisement to the extent that the advertisement relates to an activity, involving marihuana, that is in compliance with the law of the State in which that activity takes place.”

In a press release, Merkely argued USPS should treat marijuana ads in legal states like any other piece of mail.

“Oregon voters have made it clear that they support marijuana legalization, but in area after area, federal regulation makes it difficult for legitimate marijuana businesses to operate,” he said. “It’s time the federal government starts updating its rules and regulations in states where marijuana is now legal.”

The bills have been referred to committee where they will either be scheduled for hearings or die without advancing.

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