Elias Atienza is a history senior and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
On Sept. 27, Mustang News reported that Cal Poly’s lawyers sent a letter to the College of Liberal Arts dean asking Mustang News to stop running ads for local cannabis businesses. They argued that these ads were “laundering of drug money.” This is not only nonsense, but it attacks free speech and the freedom of the press, and only continues to expose Cal Poly’s hypocrisy when it comes to enforcing federal law.
Cannabis is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1973, meaning it is illegal on the federal level, regardless of the legality in California. Cal Poly would be correct in saying they have an obligation in enforcing federal law, if it weren’t for one problem: they have chosen not to enforce it in the past.
Cal Poly has chosen not to enforce federal immigration law when it comes to undocumented students who are not covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This, in my mind, is the right thing to do. Undocumented students who have not committed any crimes and are otherwise law-abiding members of society should be allowed to live their lives in peace. But as I’ve said before, the university’s selective enforcement of federal law sends mixed signals to Cal Poly students whose lives are affected by the university’s stance on enforcing federal laws, such as those with medical marijuana cards or DACA status.
Second, it attacks free speech and the freedom of the press. Mustang News receives more than 80 percent of their revenue from selling advertisements. Unlike many other student publications, Mustang News does not receive substantial support from the administration. “We have been battling for every ad dollar we can get,” said Mustang Media Group Manager Paul Bittick to Mustang News.
By trying to cut off a source of revenue for Mustang News, Cal Poly is inadvertently attacking our freedom to operate as an independent student newspaper. With rising costs, student newspapers have had to cut corners, such as Mustang News transitioning from a daily paper to a weekly paper. Mustang News is the only newspaper in San Luis Obispo dedicated to covering Cal Poly, meaning that every ad dollar we lose is less money going into reporting.
As the University of Wisconsin, Madison Badger Herald editor-in-chief Matt O’Connor wrote, “student journalists at institutions big and small are often the only ones reporting on student stories and breaking important news at their university — realities which make the challenges these outlets face all the more tragic and the task of protecting them all the more important.”
Legal Counsel at California News Publishers Association Nikki Moore told Mustang News that “there is no legal basis that I am aware of that makes Mustang News’ activity unlawful.” The university did not have a legal basis for telling Mustang News not to sell advertising space to cannabis businesses. Cal Poly has to accept that cannabis is legal under California law. Mustang News’ audience isn’t just students, but also all people who live in San Luis Obispo. Attacking a student newspaper for allowing a legal business to use their advertising space is not only an attack on the freedom of the press, but it’s a disturbing trend in continued hostility toward the press. Hopefully the administration will reverse their course, but that’s as likely as me growing a mustache.