First, Feds crack down on dispensaries. Is the media next?

Jeff vonKaenel

My heart dropped when I received the call. A California Watch reporter wanted me to comment on a U.S. attorney’s new plan to prosecute media who run medical-cannabis ads. That would be me.

It was bizarre. One part of my mind feared I was headed to prison, while another part of my mind attempted to think of a coherent answer to the reporter’s question. After taking a breath, I told the reporter I was stunned by this interpretation of the First Amendment. Other reporters called as the day progressed, and I was able to improve upon my initial answer. I said the U.S. attorney’s plan was coming from left field … a field that apparently did not include the U.S. Constitution.

I never would have thought the federal government would prosecute a media owner who allowed a state-sanctioned business to advertise. And I was not alone. Other much larger media corporations with bushels of lawyers on staff, such as The McClatchy Co., which publishes The Sacramento Bee; the Tribune Company, which owns Fox40; and local billboard and radio companies were in the same boat.

Unfortunately, what I thought about it might not even matter. Government attorneys have the power to destroy lives and businesses. They may not always win their cases, but going to court is so expensive and time consuming, that it is often the same as a loss.

And because the threat is so real, the natural response is to cave in. This is what Google did, when it paid the federal government $500 million for the so-called crime of allowing Canadian pharmaceutical companies to advertise less expensive drugs on its site.

The Canadian government, like most other countries, negotiated with pharmaceutical companies to get lower drug prices. But in America, the pharmaceutical companies used huge political donations to convince our politicians that negotiating lower prices should be illegal. Thus, Americans wind up paying obscene amounts for overpriced prescription drugs instead of being able to purchase less expensive drugs from Canada.

Obviously, I don’t have Google’s resources to fight the government. But I can tell you I think it was unfortunate that Google apologized and immoral for the government to let the pharmaceutical companies get away with it.

It’s a case where a powerful political force crafted legislation for its own selfish interests, then used the enforcement power of the federal government to work against the interests of the American people.

And now the U.S. attorneys are considering going after local media who carry ads from medical-marijuana dispensaries, even though these dispensaries are legal in California. This doesn’t seem to make sense, but there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense these days.

At least now you can see why my heart dropped when that phone call came.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.