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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thinking about trying to mail weed through the USPS? Learn about the laws, risks and penalties associated with mailing marijuana.
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In “Mailing Marijuana Out of Colorado: How Likely Are You to Get Caught?,” published circa November 2015, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area’s Tom Gorman estimated that 90 percent of illegally shipped cannabis packages weren’t being found by postal inspectors.
The 2016 totals for Colorado in both surveys represent less than 10 percent of the total national seizures for 2016 by U.S. News and World Report last year, when just shy of 10,000 marijuana-laden items were grabbed by postal inspectors.
Here are those numbers:
Are the percentages of marijuana parcels seized rising? Since we don’t know how many of these packages are being sent, it’s impossible to tell. But Ask a Stoner columnist Herbert Fuego believes that using the U.S. mail to ship pot edibles is generally no big deal. The following is an excerpt from a response to a reader back in December, complete with original links:
Here’s a graphic illustrating the rise, from the RMHIDTA document.
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Our 2015 piece drew from an ABC7 Chicago piece with this screaming headline: “MAILING MARIJUANA: OFFICIALS REPORT SPIKE IN POT-LADEN PACKAGES.” The report included an interview with Gorman and figures from one of the RMHIDTA’s regular sky-is-falling jeremiads against marijuana legalization.
In "Mailing Marijuana Out of Colorado: How Likely Are You to Get Caught?," published circa November 2015, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area's Tom Gorman estimated that 90 percent of illegally shipped cannabis packages weren't being found by postal inspectors. More than two years later, figures…