This week, federal attorneys representing four California districts swore to crack down on media outlets that sell advertising space to care centers. According to federal law, “any newspaper, magazine, handbill or other publication” may not display ads for illegal drugs, including cannabis.

Laura E. Duffy, one of the attorneys from California, had this to say: “I’m actually hearing radio and seeing TV advertising. It’s gone mainstream. Not only is it inappropriate–one has to wonder what kind of message we’re sending to our children–it’s against the law.” In that interview with California Watch, she also said she would be “part of the enforcement efforts” in her district.

This move won’t just hurt dispensary owners, who may soon have no means to promote their businesses. It will also affect media outlets who currently are hurting for advertising dollars. Weed ads have been a boon to the newspaper industry during a decline in classified and retail ad sales. These effects don’t stop at dispensaries, either. Plenty of lawyers market themselves as defenders of pot patients. Some tax lawyers specialize in the marijuana industry. While it’s unclear whether they will be targeted as well, it’s certainly possible.

But what the enforcement really attacks? Free speech, according to some: “The government has decided to attack the very concept of pot as a medical substance,” said Curtis Cartier, a writer for Seattle Weekly. In his article, Cartier lays out what defines commercial speech and argues why, in some cases, these ads may qualify for First Amendment protection from the crackdown.

So far, there’s been little mention of a similar campaign here in Colorado. With the federal government on the case, though, I’m sure we can expect to see ads being pulled from publications like Westword, who reportedly make 15% of their retail and 40% of their classified ad sales from marijuana businesses.

Meanwhile, alcohol and pharmaceutical companies continue to advertise everywhere.

Austin Wulf is a freelance writer and cannabis activist.
Read more of his THC-infused coverage of the pot industry here.