The U.S. Postal Service has warned newspapers that it is a felony to mail material that includes marijuana advertising.
The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association forwarded the recent federal advisory to its 100 or so members this week. The group’s executive director said the association “strongly discourages” Oregon newspapers that rely on the U.S. mail for delivery from accepting “any type of marijuana advertising.”
“It is against the law,” Laurie Hieb wrote in an email to Oregon newspaper executives this week. “Unfortunately, ONPA cannot do anything about this.”
It’s not clear what prompted the warning, which was hand-delivered Monday by a Washington postal official to the Chinook Observer, a Long Beach, Wash., newspaper. The newspaper and the Daily Astorian distribute a weekly tab called Coast Weekend, which runs advertisements from a Long Beach dispensary and Oregon Coast dispensaries.
The Long Beach paper has a circulation of about 4,400; about 2,560 subscribers receive the newspapers via the U.S. mail, said Steve Forrester, president of the EO Media Group, which publishes 11 newspapers, including those in Long View and Astoria. Forrester is also publisher and editor of the Daily Astorian.
Forrester said he reached out to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., for more information about the federal directive. He said he is waiting for more information before deciding whether to continue to run marijuana ads.
“We haven’t set a long-term strategy,” he said. “We can’t until we know more.”
Hieb said she’s received many calls about the advisory, which she said “has created more confusion than clarity.”
The document, dated Nov. 27, warns that the U.S. Postal Service prohibits mailing material that contains marijuana advertisements. The policy cites marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance and says it is “unlawful 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 prohibition applies to advertisements for marijuana sold at medical marijuana dispensaries.
Portland Postmaster Shawneen Betha referred questions about the directive to Peter Hass, a postal service spokesman based in Arizona. He issued a statement on Wedneday saying it is a felony 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, which includes marijuana.”
Hieb said her counterparts in Colorado have not received a similar warning. A representative of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association said her association first learned of the warning on Wednesday.
Marcia Van Dyke, executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, said newspapers in Washington, where voters approved medical marijuana in 1998, have run marijuana-related advertising without a problem. She said her organization is looking into how to respond.
“Many of our newspapers have been running these ads for a while now in accordance with Washington state law,” she said.
Hieb said she does not know how many Oregon newspapers are affected by the warning. She said some publications don’t rely on the postal service for delivery. Others have decided against running marijuana advertisements.
“The marijuana issue is so new I think publishers are still trying to figure out if they are going to participate and have marijuana ads in their papers,” she said.
Steve Moss, president of the Oregonian Media Group, which publishes The Oregonian, said the newspaper has received the information and was looking into it. The company has accepted marijuana advertising in the past.
According to the latest U.S. Postal Service Statement of Ownership and Circulation, The Oregonian mails, on average, 175 copies of the Sunday newspaper. It mails an average of 186 copies of the weekday edition. The numbers are a fraction of the overall subscribers to The Oregonian.
Jack Orchard, a Portland attorney who represents the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, said the organization is taking the directive seriously.
He called the warning “an interesting political document,” especially since it appears to have come from a Portland-based postal office and not a regional or national office within the postal service.
“Why now?” asked Orchard. “You can say what you want to say about recreational marijuana and the liberalization of marijuana laws in Oregon, but medical marijuana is in widespread use throughout the country and certainly has been part of the Oregon landscape for a long time. The timing of this lends a kind of fascinating political edge to this.”
Staff for Wyden and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., are trying to find out why the advisory was issued, said Nicole L’Esperance, a Blumenauer spokeswoman. She said both are “in discussions with the postal service to seek clarification of what appears to be an outdated interpretation that is understandably puzzling to law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state.”
She said said Wyden and Blumenauer “expect an explanation as soon as possible” from the postal service.
— Noelle Crombie