By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

PORTLAND — The U.S. Postal Service has held its ground in a spat with Oregon’s Democratic lawmakers, telling them this week it will uphold federal law that prevents mail handled by the agency from containing ads for marijuana.

The agency took it a step further, issuing a nationwide policy that says businesses, including newspapers that use the Postal Service to deliver papers and direct mail companies that want to work with marijuana stores to get in front of potential customers, can’t use the U.S. Postal Service if their mailers contain pot ads.

The policy, originally sent to a newspaper in southwest Washington, concerns Oregon and Washington newspaper publishers who routinely run ads for marijuana companies and now must choose between losing some amount of revenue or facing increased costs to deliver papers to subscribers.

“Based on our review of the (law), we have concluded that advertisements for the sale of marijuana are non-mailable,” wrote Thomas Marshall, USPS general counsel and executive vice president, in response to Oregon Democrats.

A warning sent from the Postal Service regional office in Portland that made its way to a newspaper publisher in southwest Washington applies nationwide, Marshall wrote.

Although four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for adults, and 23 states and Washington, D.C., legalized it for medical use, the federal government considers the plant illegal, listing it on the federal Controlled Substances Act on par with heroin and other drugs.

The act prohibits advertisements in “any newspaper, magazine, handbill, or other publications” if they solicit a controlled substance, Marshall wrote.

“These provisions express Congress’s judgment that the mail should not be used as a means of transmitting advertisements for the sale of marijuana, even if that sale is allowed under state law,” Marshall wrote.

Marshall didn’t respond to an email requesting comment on the new USPS national policy.

While the new nationwide policy says mailers with marijuana ads are illegal, the agency apparently has no authority to stop the mailers.

The new policy directs postmasters to send a report to the local U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the Postal Service.

“The matter would then be turned over to the responsible law enforcement agencies for investigation if appropriate,” Marshall wrote. The Drug Enforcement Administration enforces the Controlled Substances Act.

The new, nationwide policy invoked a strong rebuke from Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley — four Democrats who are among the strongest marijuana supporters in Congress.

“We are working as a delegation to quickly find the best option to address this agency’s intransigence,” the four Democrats wrote. “Unfortunately, the outdated federal approach to marijuana as described in the response from the Postal Service undermines and threatens news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana businesses in Oregon and other states where voters also have freely decided to legalize marijuana.”

While numerous newspapers run ads for marijuana businesses, the new policy’s impact may be limited for many.

The Bulletin runs marijuana ads, but “their total value to us so far has been insignificant,” according to Publisher John Costa.

Others may feel a greater impact.

“For our weekly in Washington state, Chinook Observer, it’s a large deal,” Steve Forrester, president and CEO of the EO Media Group, which publishes the Long Beach, Washington-based Observer, said this month. “They’re about a 6,000 circulation (paper). Half of it goes through the mail, which is true of a lot of rural weeklies.”

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

tanderson@bendbulletin.com

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