Cannabis with gavel - Getty Images

There is yet another path open to potentially allowing cannabis advertising on radio and television stations. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) has introduced a bill that would permit radio and television stations to accept advertising for legal cannabis products if the station is licensed in a state that permits the advertising of medical or adult-use cannabis.

The proposed Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Advertising Act is similar to a provision tucked inside the proposed Federal Communications Commission budget for fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. But unlike the budget maneuver under which the ad moratorium would only last for one-year, Luján’s bill would permanently remove any doubt about whether stations could accept cannabis advertising.

“As more states enact common-sense cannabis legislation, it’s crucial that radio and TV stations can accept advertising without fear of losing their license,” said Luján in a statement. “With health and safety measures in place, this legislation will allow broadcasters to accept cannabis advertisements in accordance with state laws.”

Luján and his staff worked with the New Mexico Broadcasters Association in drafting the bill. His state’s legislature made adult use cannabis legal in March 2021. “The members of the NMBA appreciate the efforts of Sen. Lujan and his staff. Their work on this bill which would allow cannabis advertising to air on New Mexico broadcasting is in step with state law and long overdue,” NMBA President Paula Maes said in a statement. “Senator Lujan’s legislation helps remedy this unfair situation by recognizing the importance of state law in addressing cannabis issues.”

The continued federal prohibition on cannabis has made radio and TV owners leery of accepting cannabis advertising even as state laws have evolved. Currently, 37 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis products. And 19 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted measures that allow for legal adult-use cannabis. Yet the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule One controlled substance has stations holding back out of fears they could face challenges to their licenses or FCC-issued fines.

The SAFE Advertising Act would prohibit the FCC from rejecting a license renewal, license transfer, or require an early renewal application if a station opts to air cannabis ads from a legitimate seller. It would also cover various hemp-related businesses. Luján is Chair of the Senate’s Communications Subcommittee, which oversees the FCC. His bill would also require the Government Accountability Office to study how many cannabis-related businesses are owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

Luján’s bill is the second in two weeks that would clear a way for cannabis ads onto radio and television. Last week Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led a group of lawmakers in the introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. If enacted, it would bring an end to federal prohibitions on marijuana usage. But with many lawmakers in both parties hesitant to change federal laws governing marijuana, it faces a steep uphill climb in Congress.

Luján’s proposal could offer an alternative path since it would leave federal drug laws as they are currently written, while at the same time allowing radio and TV stations to cash in on what could be a multi-billion dollar advertising category in the years to come.

The National Association of Broadcasters supports Luján’s bill and says it will continue working with policymakers to ensure there is a permanent resolution to what it sees as a competitive disparity.

"Due to outdated government regulations, only local radio and television broadcasters face legal exposure for advertising cannabis products permitted under state law,” said NAB President Curtis LeGeyt. “The SAFE Advertising Act would finally level the playing field and create necessary regulatory certainty for broadcasters.”

The Safe Advertising Coalition, which is made up of state broadcasting associations, also supports the Luján proposal.

“We applaud Senator Lujan’s efforts to allow local radio and television broadcasters to accept cannabis advertisements consistent with the law of the state in which they are licensed,” said David Donovan, President of the New York State Broadcasters Association, and a member of the Safe Advertising Coalition. “We look forward to working with Sen. Lujan’s office to move this important legislation forward,” he said in a statement.