In March, we cautioned broadcasters against the airing of ads for medical marijuana.  Our concerns stemmed not only from a complaint pending at the FCC, but also because, despite the widespread belief that the Federal government no longer cared about medical marijuana use and sale, the Department of Justice had only said that prosecution was no longer a priority, not that it was no longer illegal.  In recent months, our concerns seem more and more justified.  We had worried about some local Federal prosecutor deciding that he or she had time to prosecute offenses, even though DOJ headquarters did not think it to be a priority.  But, based on press reports and DOJ’s own press releases, it looks like there has been at least some rethinking of the policies in Washington, DC as well.  The DOJ appears to be backtracking on medical marijuana, now saying only that it won’t prosecute individuals who use medical marijuana, but that dispensaries, even if set up under the color of state laws, are still illegal under Federal law and subject to Federal prosecution.  Thus, broadcasters, as Federal licensees, need to exercise extreme care in advertising such dispensaries.

In the last few days, NPR has broadcast stories about the Department of Justice writing letters to authorities in Rhode Island and Arizona, in both cases saying that the Federal government still considers the sale of marijuana, even medical marijuana, to be a Federal felony subject to prosecution.  Both states are now reconsidering their laws that would otherwise allow for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries.  The DOJ, on its website, cites a US Attorney in Washington State who has written to the landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries, warning them of the penalties that they may face if they allow these dispensaries to continue to operate, going so far as to warn them that they may face the forfeiture of their property to the government as it is being used to distribute prohibited drugs.  As this letter states, “We intend to use the full extent of our legal remedies to enforce the law.”  This language should serve as a warning to broadcasters of the Federal government’s attitude toward marijuana dispensaries.


Continue Reading More Concerns About The Broadcast of Medical Marijuana Ads

As medical marijuana has become legalized or decriminalized in many states, broadcasters have looked at advertising for the services of clinics and dispensaries as a potential new revenue source. As some community newspapers and other local media have begun to advertise dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal, we’ve been asked many times whether broadcasters can start to run such ads as well. Many radio and TV stations have even been approached by the operators of these clinics, seeking to run advertising schedules. Should broadcasters accept such ads? We urge caution.

Even though many states have decriminalized medical marijuana, possession and distribution of marijuana is still a Federal crime.  And broadcasters, unlike most other local media outlets, operate with Federal licenses. While the current US Attorney General has said that he will not criminally prosecute medical marijuana cases, the prohibition against marijuana remains on the books.  A careful reading of the Attorney General’s directive on medical marijuana shows that the Department of Justice has not said that medical marijuana is a legal substance, but only that, as a matter of prosecutorial priorities, the DOJ will not use its resources to target dispensaries and clinics operating under the color of state laws.  So, while this Attorney General may not direct his Department to prosecute medical marijuana users or distributors, the possession of marijuana remains a Federal crime, and the Attorney General’s memo makes clear that state laws cannot change this conclusion.  Thus, there may be some zealous local Federal prosecutor who decides to enforce the law on his or her own. Or, perhaps of more concern to the broadcaster, is the fact that there may be some local citizen in an area served by a radio or television station that runs such an ad who complains about the content of the ad to the FCC. In fact, we understand that there are already such complaints pending at the FCC. 


Continue Reading Advertising Medical Marijuana on Broadcast Stations – Is It Legal, What Will the FCC Think?