A letter (in the Aug. 7 Journal) by Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), criticized U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., for introducing the Secure and Fair Enforcement Advertising Act (SAFE Act) S. 4622, which would allow radio and television stations to accept cannabis advertisements without being penalized by the Federal Communications Commission. Unfortunately, SAM’s criticism is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the legislation.
Sabet’s letter focuses on the health risks surrounding the misuse of cannabis. These risks have been evaluated by lawmakers in New Mexico and in state capitals across the country during the legislative process. Nonetheless, the letter does not mention the health risks associated with obtaining cannabis from criminal drug dealers who lace their product with deadly additives like fentanyl. Despite the decades long War on Drugs, the demand for cannabis remains strong. In order to save lives, we must convince consumers to shift away from the “illegal” market to a safer regulated market. Advertising plays an important role in promoting the use of this legal product in a manner that is safe.
As Sabet’s letter recognizes, advertising for cannabis is already reaching consumers through a variety of “Big Tech” social media and internet platforms. These outlets have already “normalized” cannabis use but have no connection to local communities. Compare this to local broadcasters who understand the needs of their communities and operate under a federal obligation to serve the public interest. In fact, local stations have donated countless hours of public service announcements to combat drug abuse.
I suggest local stations are in a better position to evaluate such advertising and either accept or reject it based on the needs of their community. This is not a ploy by “Madison Avenue.” It is simply allowing a local station to accept advertising from a local authorized cannabis distributor without being penalized by the FCC. We simply ask for the opportunity to be treated like any other medium.
We strongly support the legislation but understand local broadcasters will not be allowed to accept cannabis advertising under New Mexico law. Luján’s bill does not conflict with New Mexico law. This federal legislation will allow local broadcasters in other states to accept cannabis advertising consistent with the law of the state in which they are licensed and their federal obligation to serve public interest. We strongly support this thoughtful approach to such a complex issue.
To avoid FCC penalties, the legislation requires that local stations comply with the law of the state in which they are licensed. This means that local stations in New Mexico would still not be able to accept cannabis advertisements because they are prohibited by state law. Luján’s bill does not change or override this prohibition in any way.