The United States Postal Service (USPS) is announcing a new national policy banning the mailing of publications that contain advertisements for marijuana.
“It is unlawful to enter as mail…advertisements that seek or offer to buy or sell Schedule I controlled substances, including marijuana,” the policy reads. If USPS personnel identify mail containing such content, they must “send a report to the local inspection service serving their facility, and the matter would then be turned over to the responsible law enforcement agencies for investigation if appropriate.”
The policy was announced by Thomas J. Marshall, USPS’s general counsel and executive vice president, in a letter to four members of Congress from Oregon. The lawmakers had requested USPS issue clarification after the agency’s Portland District sent a document to newspaper publishers in the state warning them not to attempt to mail any newspapers containing cannabis ads.
“As an entity of the Federal Government, the Postal Service’s obligation is to make mailability determinations in accordance with the requirements of federal law,” Marshall wrote to the legislators in the letter, dated December 15. “Based on our review of the pertinent statutory provisions, we have concluded that advertisements for the sale of marijuana are non-mailable.”
The four members of Congress — Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici — issued a joint statement on Thursday responding to the newly announced USPS policy.
“We are working as a delegation to quickly find the best option to address this agency’s intransigence. We want federal authorities to respect decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state,” they said. “Unfortunately, the outdated federal approach to marijuana as described in the response from the Postal Service undermines and threatens news publications that choose to accept advertising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.”
In the letter, Marshall said he disagreed with the lawmakers that a Congressionally-enacted budget rider affects USPS’s ability to prevent the mailing of ads for medical marijuana. That rider, first passed into law last year, prohibits the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.
The rider only affects the Justice Department, of which USPS is not a part, Marshall point out, adding, “Treating advertisements for the sale of medical marijuana as being non-mailable in no way prevents states from implementing their medical marijuana programs, because it does not inhibit the ability of state-sanctioned medical marijuana distributors to conduct their activities in accordance with state law.”
An updated version of the medical marijuana rider is included in a large Fiscal Year 2016 spending bill that Congress is expected to pass in the next few days.
The new USPS policy says that it is up to mailers themselves to comply with the law. Postal Service personnel are “not authorized to decide whether written, printed, or graphic material is — solely because of its content — non-mailable.” They are “not permitted to deny entry to such matter or exclude it from the mail.” Rather, when they see such content, they should advise the mailer of the law. If the mailer insists on trying to send the content, it “must still be accepted unless it is not otherwise properly prepared for mailing.” USPS staff are then instructed to report the matter to investigation and enforcement authorities.