Can you get away with mailing cannabis through the USPS?
“Hear ye, hear ye!” July 26th, 2016 is the 241st anniversary of the most venerable of U.S. institutions, the United States Postal Service. You’ll no doubt recognize agency members by those timeless navy blue shorts and the eagle logo on the side of their trucks. The USPS has been making deliveries for nearly two and a half centuries, yet there’s a lot about this organization that people don’t know. Namely, what is the risk of mailing or shipping cannabis through the U.S. Postal Service?
Unsurprisingly, postal inspectors play a key role in helping wage the nation’s war on illegal drugs. Their work to identify and prosecute major drug mailers and intercept illegal drug proceeds that traffickers attempt to send through the mail is well-known. But we know what you’re thinking: how many of those billions of packages being mailed each year contain cannabis? Are people getting away with mailing cannabis? Can I mail weed and not get caught? Is it worth risking the consequences?
Drug trafficking is an existing problem
Ever since the closure of the infamous Silk Road and the media furor surrounding it, people are increasingly aware of the existence and the nefarious proclivities of particular groups within the Dark Net. For most Americans, illegal substances are no more than a simple click away thanks to Internet access and Dark Net markets. Still, these hidden, online, drug dealers are not privy to some secret, underground delivery method us mere mortals are unaware of; they simply use the Postal Service.
According to former Attorney General Eric Holder, the problem is endemic:
“The postal service—the mails are—being used to facilitate drug dealing … It is shocking to see the amount of drugs that get pumped into communities all around this country through our mail system, and we have to deal with that.”
Leafly contacted the Postal Service in the hope of getting more information on their policies regarding illicit substances, in particular cannabis, being transported in the mail. The USPS promptly responded while also providing some useful data:
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to eradicating illegal drugs and their proceeds from the U.S. Mail. We pursue traffickers of all forms of illegal narcotics—including marijuana, which remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act and is therefore unmailable. Our prohibited narcotics program focuses on the disruption of organized narcotics-trafficking operations, to help protect employees and customers from the violence related to drug trafficking, and to inhibit the spread of illegal or unmailable substances into neighborhoods across America.”
Though states can legalize marijuana possession under local law, possession for any reason outside limited research technically remains a federal crime, as does shipping cannabis through the mail. More than 200 federal laws protect the sanctity of the U.S. mail. These laws are enforced by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, one of the oldest law enforcement agencies in the country.
Postal inspectors are federal agents, mandated to safeguard the nation’s mail, including the people who move it and the customers who use it. On average, 1,000 suspects are arrested by postal inspectors each year for trafficking drugs and laundering drug money via the U.S mail. In addition to seizing cash obtained through criminal activity, postal inspectors have used federal forfeiture laws to seize houses, vehicles, boats, artwork, and other high-value items purchased with drug money.
Statistical trends: Mailing marijuana and other drugs
In the anarchy of the legalization movement, some cannabis users dismissed the run-of-the-mill driving delivery system and instead have taken to mailing their product. In an effort to assess the scale of the trafficking taking place within the USPS, we tried to get our hands on as much relevant data as possible. We were semi-successful in this undertaking, only managing to get information covering the period 2012 to 2015. Consequently, you’ll have to excuse the somewhat empty looking graph below. It’s as patchy as a 13-year-old’s facial hair, but it’s all we got right now since we hadn’t the time to submit a Freedom of Information request.
The earliest available data covers the fiscal year 2012. Nationwide, during this period, inspectors found roughly 42,000 lbs of marijuana packaged in about 7,600 parcels. The following year, postal inspectors, in cooperation with local and national law enforcement agencies, secured 2,622 arrests and indictments for mailing controlled substances, up from 2,299 arrests and indictments the preceding year.
Marijuana proved to be comprehensively the most common drug intercepted by inspectors — cannabis intercepts comprised 68 percent of 13,389 drug-related seizures in 2013, up from 67 percent of 11,322 seizures the year before. 2013 ended on a high, with the Postal Inspection Service intercepting almost 20 percent more parcels and making 14 percent more arrests and indictments for mailing controlled substances than in the preceding year.
The trend seems to have been bucked, however, as the levels of marijuana detected in the postal system declined in 2014. This just happened to coincide with the country’s first licensed recreational marijuana stores opening in Washington and Colorado. The number of marijuana parcels seized by inspectors fell more than 12 percent in 2014, with a coinciding decrease in the total weight of captured cannabis. This trend appears to have continued throughout 2015, with a further drop in the total amount of marijuana seized in parcels to 34,305 lbs; an almost 13 percent fall.
It’s pretty much impossible to explain the decrease in the numbers, an effort made more difficult by the fact that no one knows just how much marijuana successfully makes it through the Postal Service undiscovered. Is it just a coincidence, though, that the level of detected cannabis has fallen as more states wholly legalize? Prohibition has been seen in the past to encourage and incentivize the black market. Perhaps, as cannabis becomes increasingly mainstream and regulated, the lure of the black market is removed through easier access and the realization that shipping the drug is no longer worth the risk of harsh federal charges.
Why do people risk getting caught mailing cannabis?
Why are there so many people willing to take a chance on something like mailing cannabis? Is it really such a bad thing? Could there really be possible upsides to sending cannabis in the mail?
Ever since marijuana laws have progressed in states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, the threat that more cannabis might flood areas where it’s not legal has been a common concern for those opposed to legalization. Whether or not legal cannabis in Oregon is making its way to Raleigh through the mail, it’s never really explained why this is worse than illegal cannabis getting here from other places.
Despite possible federal punishment for mailing controlled substances over the Postal Service, it may actually be better. For one, getting marijuana in the mail is certainly much safer than getting it on the street from some shady dealer. When it comes to obtaining illicit drugs, there’s always a risk something can go wrong as a result of the product’s prohibition, whether it’s getting assaulted by a squirrely dealer or getting some terrible weed that leaves you with a headache for the rest of the day.
Even though legal cannabis seems to be accomplishing something that the drug war never could, a huge proportion of it still comes from Mexico. It’s grown, packaged, and shipped from south of the border, which has created many jobs.
However, as more states changed their laws, some of those jobs have moved to places like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and California, thus sending Mexican cartel imports tumbling. The latest data shows that while agents hit a seizures pinnacle in 2009, getting their hands on around 4 million pounds of cannabis, they only confiscated about 1.5 million pounds last year. Mail-ordering marijuana would be another way for consumers to expand a budding industry that helps farmers and keeps decent jobs in America.
And finally, let’s face it, the USPS could do with the extra traffic. The United States Postal Service has been in financial trouble for the better part of a decade. In the past 10 years, total volume has declined by more than 56 billion pieces (or 26%), first-class mail volume has declined by 34.5 billion pieces, and single-piece first-class mail (primarily letters bearing postage stamps) has declined by 24.4 billion pieces.
Not surprisingly, as a result, the Postal Service has managed to lose a lot of money. USPS has accumulated $47 billion in operating losses since the 1971. It’s no surprise that the agency is constantly talked about being on the verge of collapse, which would sadly result in the loss of thousands jobs in the U.S. Ultimately, can beggars be choosers? This may not prove be a case of invention being the mother of necessity but, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, traffic, is traffic, is traffic.
What about using a private courier to mail weed?
In terms of alternative carriers within the U.S., there are a number of private couriers. The big three outside of USPS are FedEx, UPS, and DHL. A question for the discerning cannabis shipper might be “Which service should I choose and are any of these a better, safer option than USPS?” Surely these private companies offer the paying customers greater protection against government interference and warrantless searches?
The answer is a resounding no. FedEx, UPS, and DHL all specify in their terms of service that they reserve the right to open and inspect any package at their own discretion. In contrast to these policies, the U.S. Postal Service is the preferred carrier for many drug shippers because it offers more stringent Fourth Amendment protection. Postal inspectors must acquire a search warrant based on probable cause before inspecting mail and parcels. According to the USPS:
“…first class letters and parcels are protected against search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and, as such, cannot be opened without a search warrant.”
When you drop your package off at the FedEx or UPS store to be mailed, you’re putting the property into the possession of a third party, and the Supreme Court has ruled that giving your package to a third party “removes any reasonable expectation of privacy.” To compound this, in 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted FedEx with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances over its alleged role in transporting illegal prescription drugs. While this isn’t marijuana, it does strongly indicate that FedEx and other private couriers will be scrutinizing packages much more closely for any illegal substances.
This is not necessarily the case with the USPS, because as government employees, they are the federal government and therefore require a warrant to access your package. However, although postal inspectors do have to obtain a warrant to search a suspicious package, suspicion alone is enough to get parcels singled out and tracked. USPS actively encourages workers and the public to get involved in the identification of packages containing drugs by offering $50,000 to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and indictment of a drug trafficker.
When it comes right down to it, as an option for the illegal transportation of cannabis via mail, USPS is – relatively! – your safest bet. And we mean relatively. Remember, the act is an illegal one and, without a doubt, carries a significant level of risk.
Risks and penalties of being caught mailing cannabis
Crunching the numbers, you can’t help but realize the stark reality facing the Postal Service in terms of the enormous task they have in preventing the trafficking of illicit substances. Put simply, the sheer volume of packages the carrier handles every day offers the chance that contraband packages will get delivered unchecked. They can put their collective shoulder to the wheel but, no matter how hard they try, it is virtually impossible for the USPS to catch all wrongdoers.
Shipping drugs through the mail is probably safer than it should be. The USPS, as well as partnering law enforcement agencies, simply don’t have the resources to try to figure out where the drugs are coming from and who’s expecting them.
However, it would be unfair to fault the USPS in the matter; they are just not equipped to scan and investigate each package. Not only are packages given extra protection, as we’ve outlined, but the agency has also been losing money pretty much every year for the last decade due to a decrease in mail volume. The organization is increasingly under-resourced and facing pressure to downsize being exerted by the government. In 2016, despite turning a profit in a financial quarter for the first time in five years, President Obama still proposed the agency slash 12,000 employees in his fiscal 2017 budget. The USPS is definitely getting a new line of business; it’s just not the business they want.
Potential penalties for mailing weed
While acknowledging the Sisyphean uphill struggle the USPS faces, it’s worth reminding any would-be Pablo Escobars that misusing the Postal Service in this way remains, at best, a game of Russian roulette. The United States Postal Service are a government agency and therefore subject to federal law. As the USPS is subject to federal guidelines, any illegal use of their services is a felony. Plus, marijuana is still considered to be a Schedule I drug. That means anything under 50 grams can potentially get you up to five years in a federal penitentiary, and the penalties only increase as the amount grows.
Also, in case you’re thinking of doing anybody any favors, that even if you did not mail the package and are only the recipient, your knowledge and participation in the planning of the shipping makes you just as guilty as the person who mailed the package. Once a package is seized, a person is liable to face prosecution in both the state in which it was mailed as well as the state in which it was delivered. It’s totally at the discretion of the prosecutor.
Look, the Postal Service isn’t willing nor does it want to be your drug mule. The United States Postal Service is one of the oldest institutions in the nation. It deserves to be treated with greater respect. For those burgeoning, low-level drug dealers out there, you’re not only running the risk of federal prosecution, you’re disrespecting a genuine pillar of US democracy.Thinking about trying to mail weed through the USPS? Learn about the laws, risks and penalties associated with mailing marijuana.
Why You Should Never Send Weed in the Mail
Monday September 17, 2018
T here are few government agencies with their own memorable children’s song, but sing the first few notes to, “here’s the mail, it never fails…” and any member of a certain generation of American youth is likely to give the full song in response. The American affinity for the US postal service is so extensive it even spawned multiple major motion pictures. However, the nation’s growing acceptance for legal cannabis is at odds with our affinity for shipping things – making the mail system off limits for marijuana businesses or consumers.
Until extensive laws change, let us be really clear, it is always a bad idea to send cannabis through the mail.
If that’s not enough to convince you that mailing weed is a bad idea, we’ll break it down even further to specifically highlight the main reasons why sending cannabis via the mail is something no cannabis consumer should ever consider.
Cannabis is still federally illegal and considered a schedule 1 drug, meaning that sending it through the mail amounts to trafficking. According to the DEA’s 2017 ominously titled “Drugs of Abuse” report, the most minimal of offenses possible (anything under 50kg of product, or 1-49 plants) is punishable by up to five years jail time and a fine of $250,000.
If you get arrested with friends, they can charge up to $1 million to the group. Second offenses will double that, and it only gets worse for larger amounts. The US postal service is also a federal agency, meaning aside from cannabis laws, you can also be charged with misuse of mail and other mail-tampering related offenses. Even if the state you reside in is generally cool with it and decides to not prosecute, wherever it is arriving might be a different story, and each place can decide to prosecute however it pleases. Sending cannabis through the mail is definitively illegal in any circumstance, unless you are acting on behalf of a federal agency with the approved paperwork, which lets be honest, if you’re reading this article, that’s probably not the case.
Sender and Receiver are Both Equally at Fault
Maybe you’re thinking, “not my address, not my problem, it’s on whomever receives it.” This is flat out false. Both sides can be charged. People tend not to realize how well tracked the mail is, either by USPS or private companies like UPS or FedEx, and using things like fake names or addresses is actually a red flag to federal agencies, and is more likely to get your shipment flagged. All of the loopholes and workarounds that you’ll hear from friends are usually just wishful thinking.
Say Goodbye to a Future in Cannabis
If you work in the cannabis industry, or have any aspirations of getting into it, that would become impossible after a charge. Even if someone was okay with risking a fine or jail time, those in the cannabis industry may also be risking their livelihood.
In many legalized states, workers have to be licensed in order to be allowed to work in the marijuana industry, and the determination of that licensing is largely based on past criminal record, especially in relation to cannabis. Most consider having a clean criminal record the only requirement for holding a badge, so sending a package means effectively risking that possibility.
Risk Losing Your Product
It’s probably the least of one’s concerns, but it’s still a huge bummer. Though prices are constantly falling, cannabis still costs money. Even if nothing legal happens, the product is likely to be confiscated. Every year, the DEA publishes data on the amount of seized cannabis. In 2017, the record was broken for cannabis seized leaving Colorado through the mail, and it became so problematic in Oregon that its US Attorney issued an editorial about how overproduction was driving the black market. He stated, “In 2017 alone, postal agents in Oregon seized 2,644 pounds of marijuana in outbound parcels. ”
Without question, a lot of pot isn’t winding up at its destination, and your package is likely to be part of it. After it doesn’t arrive, you’ll get to play the fun waiting game of wondering if you’re going to be charged for it or not. Which, doesn’t always happen the way you’d expect…
The Government Probably Knows You Did It
So, maybe someone you know got a package of marijuana in the mail. Bravo, all is well. Clearly no one is watching, because it worked, right? Nope. Often, it’s not advantageous for the federal government to go through the process of prosecuting someone who has broken the law, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know about it, and won’t keep a record.
If it ever becomes advantageous to use that information at a later time, they can. Statutes of limitations will vary from state to state, but are generally longer for drug trafficking than drug possession. The current limit in California is five years from the date of the incident, just to give you an idea. One postal agent who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity put it simply, “We know. We always know. It’s either not worth the time, or we’re waiting for the right time.” Usually, after first being detected, they start to watch your activity and wait to see if there’s a larger charge to prosecute you for while you continue to send packages under a false sense of security, continuing to incriminate yourself.
The Consequences Outweigh the Risks
If you’re an upstanding citizen who would like to continue living freely in America, then it’s obvious you should never mail cannabis – no matter how lucrative it may be or how desperately someone may be asking you. Next time your friend begs you to just send out a few grams or a couple edibles, tell them to consider putting the money towards a plane ticket so they can come visit your wonderful legalized state and enjoy marijuana safely and legally.
Do you have anything to add to why mailing cannabis is a bad idea? Share your thoughts below!Mailing cannabis is a serious offense and can leave you with some pretty hefty consequences if you're caught. Learn more about why mailing marijuana is never a good idea and some of the steep ramifications that you could face if caught. ]]>