An Aug. 29 update of Department of Justice policies for enforcing marijuana laws did little to clarify whether public radio stations should air underwriting announcements for marijuana dispensaries, according to one communications attorney’s analysis.
At least one station has aired spots for local dispensaries, while others have turned away interested underwriters. The hesitation stems in part from a lack of clarity surrounding the federal government’s enforcement of marijuana laws in states that have legalized medicinal or recreational use of the plant.
In its Aug. 29 update, the DOJ said it would likely not interfere with state enforcement as long as states “implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana.”
Because of that hedge, the new guidelines don’t give stations a clear-cut answer to their dilemma, according to John Crigler, an attorney with Garvey Schubert Barer in Washington, D.C.
Noncommercial stations do have a “strong argument” that underwriting announcements qualify for First Amendment protections, Crigler wrote. But he acknowledged that “that theory . . . is of little comfort to a station manager that wants a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, not an untested argument or a risk assessment that concludes that potential liability is low.”