Medical Marijuana a Cash Crop for Newspaper Ads

The ReLeaf supplement of the Colorado Springs Independent.
The ReLeaf supplement of the Colorado Springs Independent.

It's not as thick as the Sunday New York Times, but a pullout supplement of the Colorado Springs Independent newspaper is gaining heft thanks to ads aimed at consumers of medical marijuana.

In Colorado, California and Montana, where marijuana for medical use is legal, newspapers are getting a high from ad revenue for this emerging market, The New York Times reports today.

This is most valuable at a time when newspapers are hurting for advertising, particularly classified ads, which have plummeted with the rise of online services like Craigslist.

With full-page ads in its 48-page "ReLeaf" supplement costing about $1,100, the cash infusion has allowed the Independent to hire a new reporter and promote three staffers to full time.

"Medical marijuana has been a revenue blessing over and above what we anticipated," Independent publisher John Weiss told The Times' Jeremy W. Peters. "This wasn't in our marketing plan a year ago, and now it is about 10 percent of our paper's revenue."

And it's not just purveyors of weed who are buying ads: The legalization of medical marijuana has spurred ancillary businesses (tax lawyers, security specialists) to advertise as well.

When the Obama administration announced last fall it would not prosecute medical marijuana users and suppliers (if they were in compliance with the laws in those states where it is legal), that relaxed concerns about openly marketing the product. Newspapers began publishing supplements geared toward the medical marijuana consumer, such as SF Weekly's "The Rolling Paper" in San Francisco.

The ad revenue is flowing to alternative papers, free weeklies and more established major market newspapers like the Denver Post. (There are approximately 250 stores in the Denver area that sell medical marijuana.)

But as the Times writes today, ballot initiatives and legislative efforts in Colorado and Montana may restrict sales, which would likely stanch the flow of advertising revenue.

For more read The New York Times article "New Fuel for Local Papers: Medical Marijuana Ads."