Federal Prosecutors Take Aim at Medical Marijuana Ads

october 13, 2011  03:05 pm
U.S. attorneys in California are threatening to go after newspapers and other media outlets that run advertisements for medical marijuana dispensaries:
Federal law prohibits people from placing ads for illegal drugs, including marijuana, in "any newspaper, magazine, handbill or other publication." The law could conceivably extend to online ads; the U.S. Department of Justice recently extracted a $500 million settlement from Google for selling illegal ads linking to online Canadian pharmacies.

[U.S. Attorney Laura E.] Duffy said her effort against TV, radio or print outlets would first include "going after these folks with ... notification that they are in violation of federal law." She noted that she also has the power to seize property or prosecute in civil and criminal court.

William G. Panzer, an attorney who specializes in marijuana defense cases, said publishers may have a reason to worry. Federal law singles out anyone who "places" an illegal ad in a newspaper or publication. Nevertheless, Panzer said he is not aware of a single appellate case dealing with this section of the law.

At Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, a firm specializing in communications law, attorney Harry F. Cole writes:
So we’re now looking at the impending collision of two considerable forces: from one direction, we have the Great State of California (and others), satisfied that medical marijuana is a valid, beneficial and humanitarian therapeutic resource; from the other direction, we have the Federal government, still convinced that marijuana is the killer weed in which lurks murder, insanity and death.

And located right at the collision point of these two forces will be broadcasters and their print confrères, clutching the First Amendment.

This is a story that will likely be developing big time in coming weeks.

We'll have more on this next week.