Readers of Mustang News will no longer see deals for recreational cannabis in the weekly paper, due to requests from the university that these ads no longer be run.
After multiple advertisements for local dispensaries were printed in Mustang News’ print edition in mid-September, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts forwarded a letter from Cal Poly attorneys to Mustang Media Group Manager Paul Bittick, claiming that running the ads is the laundering of drug money.
The discussions about the legality of the advertisements are ongoing. The university had no further comment, according to an email written to Mustang News from university spokesperson Matt Lazier.
The issue at hand deals with laws enforced by the federal government. Marijuana is federally classified as a schedule I drug, and there are limitations on advertising through the university.
In California, it is illegal to advertise or encourage the use of marijuana unless more than 70 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older. In the case of Mustang News, the viewership includes graduate students, administration and faculty, which brings the average age of readers up.
The First Amendment also protects the freedom of the press.
All student media at California State Universities are protected under the California Education Code Section 66301, which states that a university cannot discipline a student on the basis of speech or other communication.
“There is no legal basis that I am aware of that makes Mustang News’ activity unlawful,” Legal Counsel at California News Publishers Association Nikki Moore said. “And there was none cited by the school in ordering Mustang News to stop advertising marijuana. There is no legal basis in my mind to hinder Mustang News’ First Amendment right.”
Bittick weighed in on the topic via an emailed statement to Mustang News.
Bittick said he believed the running of cannabis ads was legal after discussing the matter with attorneys from the California News Publishers Association more than two years in advance of their publication.
Bittick said Mustang News will stop publishing the cannabis advertisements until this week takes place. However, he did say that the way the paper’s revenue works, Mustang Media Group could use the money.
“Unlike many other schools that receive a large amount of student fee money for its operation, we rely on advertising revenue to pay for more than 80 percent of our operation,” Bittick wrote. “And ever since Cal Poly Corp[oration] cut back dramatically on its ad spending some three years ago in reaction to a story in Mustang News, we have been battling for every ad dollar we can get.”
At this time, no legal action has been taken. The university officials are scheduled to meet with lawyers this week.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that university attorneys sent an email to Mustang Media Group Manager Paul Bittick. This has been corrected to say that the email was sent from the attorneys to The CLA dean, which was then forwarded to Bittick.