Next Target of Federal Pot Backlash in California: Marijuana Ads

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Every day seems to bring a fresh crop of negative headlines for the medical marijuana industry, particularly in California.

And today is no different. A U.S. attorney in southern California revealed that the next stage of the medical weed crackdown will involve targeting newspapers, radio stations and other media organizations that run MMJ ads.

In an interview with the investigative reporting site California Watch, U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy said it’s time to clamp down on the proliferation of pot ads in the state.

The ads have brought medical marijuana into the mainstream, said Duffy, whose districts include San Diego County. “Not only is it inappropriate – one has to wonder what kind of message we’re sending to our children – it’s against the law,” she said.

Duffy is referring to a federal law that prohibits people from placing ads for illegal drugs in newspapers and other publications. Some experts say media organizations could face prosecution, depending on how the courts interpret the law.

Duffy indicated that she would first issue warning letters to media outlets, similar to the ones sent to landlords with medical marijuana tenants. After that, she could look to prosecute.

Alternative weekly newspapers have jumped on the MMJ ad bandwagon in the past few years, with publications like Westword in Denver and OCWeekly in Orange County running dozens of advertisements in each issue from dispensaries, growers and related companies. In recent weeks, the Sacramento Bee – a daily newspaper – even began accepting MMJ ads, bucking the trend in the mainstream media.

Some cities are also concerned that MMJ ads pose a problem. The city council in Boulder, Colo., recently voted in favor of new rules that bar dispensaries from marketing to youth and recreational users.

At this point, Duffy is the only U.S. attorney who has publicly announced plans to crackdown on MMJ ads. But the other three federal attorneys in California may follow suit, and the efforts could then spread to other states.

This appears to be part of a larger effort to put a choke hold on the industry by not only targeting medical marijuana businesses themselves, but also the support structure they need to exist.