House Committee to Broadcasters: Roll Your Own Pot Spots

Capitol Building

Broadcasters are applauding a move by Congress that would effectively provide a federal shield for TV and radio stations from any FCC retaliation airing cannabis ads.

By a vote of 31 to 22 the House Appropriations Committee Friday (June 24) approved the fiscal year (FY) 2023 Financial Services and General Government bill.

The bill includes funding for the FCC, but only so long as none of it is used to prevent local broadcasters from airing cannabis ads in states where it is legal or punishing them for doing so.

The FCC appropriations section includes the following caveat: "[N]one of the funds made available in this Act to the Federal Communications Commission may be used, with respect to an authorization for radio or television stations, to deny, fail to renew for a full term or condition the authorization, decline to approve an application for authority to assign the authorization or transfer direct or indirect control of the licensee, require an early renewal application, or impose a forfeiture penalty because the station broadcast or otherwise transmitted advertisements of a business selling cannabis or cannabis-derived products, the sale or distribution of which is authorized in the State, political subdivision of a State, or Indian country in which the community of license of a station is located, or of a business selling hemp, hemp-derived CBD products or other hemp-derived cannabinoid products."

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Broadcasters have been looking for such protections, arguing that without them they cannot air cannabis ads even where the product is legal, which is in most states.

The National Association of Broadcasters applauded the proposed protections for stations.

"We are pleased to see that this bipartisan language has advanced in the House today," said NAB spokesman Alex Siciliano. "As the vast majority of states have legalized cannabis in some form, today marks a long overdue step toward finally allowing broadcasters to receive equal treatment regarding cannabis advertising that other forms of media have had for years."

Cable and streaming services, with essentially no FCC licenses at risk, can and do air cannabis ads

But NAB was looking for more help. "While we welcome today's progress, local broadcasters will continue to work with all policymakers towards a broader resolution of this competitive disparity and in support of our unique service to local communities."

State broadcast associations have been pushing for the right to air ads for a legal product in their states. The New York State Broadcasters Association has pointed out that stations currently run the risk of losing their license--a risk the bill is meant to remove--for airing any cannabis ads since the substance remains illegal under federal law. 

The association also points out that broadcasters have for years imposed their own limits on alcohol ads, including limiting them to shows the majority of whose audiences (at least 71.6%) are over 21, and said that should apply to cannabis ads.

“We are grateful to House Appropriations Committee chair Rosa DeLauro, Subcommittee chairman Mike Quigley and members of the Committee for recognizing the unfairness of the present situation with respect to cannabis advertising," said New York State Broadcasters Association president David Donovan. "The provision in this House appropriations bill is a major step forward for leveling the playing field for local broadcasters. We believe the law of the state in which a station is licensed should determine whether a station can accept cannabis advertising if they so choose. We look forward to working with members of Congress and the Administration to help restore parity between local broadcasters and other media outlets.” ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.