US Attorney Eyes Going After Media Running Pot Ads

The chief federal prosecutor in San Diego is contemplating expanding a federal crackdown on the medical marijuana industry by going after newspapers, radio stations and other outlets that run advertisements for California’s pot dispensaries, her office told The Associated Press on Thursday. U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy made the comments initially to California Watch, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Journalism. They come a week after she and three other U.S. attorneys in California vowed to close medical marijuana businesses they deem questionable and single out people who rent buildings or land to the industry.

“I’m not just seeing print advertising,” Duffy told California Watch. “I’m actually hearing radio and seeing TV advertising. It’s gone mainstream. Not only is it inappropriate — one has to wonder what kind of message we’re sending to our children — it’s against the law.” Duffy wasn’t available Thursday to speak to the AP but her office confirmed the comments published by California Watch. The federal government will determine whether the media crackdown is necessary as the results of last week’s actions unfold, Duffy’s spokeswoman Debra Hartman said. She cited a federal law that prohibits people from placing ads that have the purpose of buying or selling a controlled substance.

“If I own a newspaper … or I own a TV station, and I’m going to take in your money to place these ads, I’m the person who is placing these ads,” Duffy said, according to California Watch. “I am willing to read (the law) expansively and if a court wants to more narrowly define it, that would be up to the court.” Duffy declined to give further details on the plan under consideration or say whether a media crackdown would involve the state’s other U.S. attorneys. But a spokesman for the Sacramento U.S. attorney told the Bakersfield Californian that there were no plans to go after advertising.

Duffy’s comments are creating a buzz in the media industry, California Newspaper Publishers Association executive director Tom Newton said. As it stands now, advertisers are responsible for the contents of their ads in newspapers, he said. “If they are false, misleading or fall below the line in other legal ways, advertisers are responsible,” he said. “Newspapers don’t have the staff or time to vet every claim in every ad that they run.” Duffy, whose district encompasses San Diego and Imperial counties, and the U.S. attorneys in three other California districts sent written warnings last week to landlords leasing property to dozens of warehouses and agricultural parcels where marijuana is being grown and for retail spaces where it is sold, telling them to evict their tenants or face criminal charges or seizure of their assets.

The attorneys say the state’s law legalizing medical marijuana was intended to allow it to be supplied to seriously ill people on a nonprofit basis. But the law has been abused by people who are just looking to get rich, they say. The action comes only months after the Obama administration tightened its stance on the issue. Media owners were waiting to see what happens before reacting publicly, Newton said. “I think everybody needs to take a breath here and really think about the implications of this issue and whether or not this is a reasonable effort and use of the limited resources of the U.S. attorney’s office,” Newton said.

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