Federal letters threaten media outlets over pot ads

October 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The government is going after a new target in the battle over medicinal marijuana. According to ABC7's media partner California Watch, which is part of the Center for Investigative Reporting, newspapers, radio stations and other media outlets that have run ads for pot clubs could face prosecution.

Federal prosecutors may be in the process of putting a letter together that they will send out to media outlets, telling them they're in violation of federal law if they publish or air medical marijuana ads. All the outlets told ABC7 they're shocked by this.

"The whole thing comes as a surprise to us. We've always believed that we were following the law and this is a legal product. And we feel that with all the problems going on in our country today, why is the Obama administration cracking down on medical marijuana?" said San Francisco Bay Guardian executive editor Tim Richmond.

The Bay Guardian is one of many media outlets in the Bay Area accepting ads for medical cannabis. The Harborside Health Center in Oakland places thousands of dollars in ads every month; they're the largest collective in California.

Just that one medical marijuana dispensary paid out $2 million in sales tax to the state of California last year and $1 million in taxes to the city of Oakland.

"One has to question the wisdom of this kind of attack on a legal business which is creating jobs and tax revenue at a time of economic crisis," said Harborside Health Center director Steve DeAngelo. "We have created 120 well paying jobs and all this stands to be lost due to the federal attack."

There are fears a crackdown could put some media outlets of business because of the loss of ad revenue. While California law permits the sale of medical pot, federal law prohibits people from placing ads for illegal drugs.

When asked if the Bay Guardian would continue to sell the ads, Richmond said, "As long as it's legal in the state of California and the US attorney doesn't tell us to stop. I mean if we get a note from the US attorney saying we have to stop selling these ads, we'll make a decision at that point."

Federal officials could go so far as to seize property or even prosecute, so everyone is holding their breath to see what happens in the next couple of days.


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