Ads for pot shops in newspapers and magazines are a conspicuous sign of the industry's new legitimacy. But like pretty much everything else state-licensed marijuana merchants do, those ads are federal felonies. In fact, as I explain in my latest Forbes column, even publishers who accept the ads may be exposing themselves to the risk of prosecution:
This week eight members of Congress asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to reassure newspaper publishers that they won't go to prison for accepting ads from marijuana merchants. While that prospect seems remote at this point, it highlights the uncertainty caused by continued federal prohibition of marijuana, which applies even in the 23 states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use.
While those states treat cannabis suppliers as legitimate businesses, the federal government still sees them as criminal enterprises, committing multiple felonies every day. Anyone who does business with them is implicated in those felonies, which is why banks are so reluctant to accept marijuana money. Providing services to cannabusinesses could be viewed as aiding and abetting federal drug crimes, while accepting payment for those services could be viewed as money laundering. For newspapers and magazines, there is an additional concern: The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) makes it a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, to "place in any newspaper, magazine, handbill, or other publications, any written advertisement knowing that it has the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy, or distribute a Schedule?I controlled substance."