Mailing Pot Ads Is Illegal, Says U.S. Postal Service

By McCarton Ackerman 12/29/15

Federal law trumps state when it comes to the U.S. mail.


Several states have now made it legal to smoke marijuana recreationally, but the United States Postal Service has made it clear that it’s still illegal to mail marijuana advertisements.

Responding to a request from Oregon's Congressional delegation to clarify its policy on the matter, the Postal Service confirmed in a statement last week that materials advertising marijuana products are illegal to mail in all 50 states. Thomas Marshall, executive vice president and general counsel of the Postal Service, wrote a letter to the delegation stating that “advertisements for the sale of marijuana are non-mailable…even if that sale is allowed under state law.” He also said that local postal officials can’t refuse mail containing pot ads, but are required to report it and allow law enforcement officials to decide if an investigation is needed.

Marshall cited the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits placing written ads for controlled substances, including marijuana, in newspapers, magazines or other publications, even in states where the drug is legal. A November memo released in Portland, OR that said it was unlawful for newspaper outlets to run marijuana ads surprised many publishers in the region that had been running ads from marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries.

In a joint statement, Oregon state Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley urged the Postal Service to respect the decision voters made in their state in legalizing marijuana. They referred to the policy as “outdated” and said it “undermines and threatens news publications” by costing them a potentially valuable revenue source.

The Postal Service has previously clarified that mailing pot itself is illegal, even within the boundaries of a legal pot state. It has been taking extra steps to crack down on this—in 2012, postal inspectors seized 42,000 pounds of pot packed in 7,600 parcels that were shipped throughout the country. Out of the 26,622 arrests that came in 2013 for intercepted packages suspected of containing illegal substances, 68% of them were for marijuana.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.