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Marijuana by mail: Pot users tap post office, FedEx

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a study to look at the pros and cons of legalizing recreational marijuana in New York. Cuomo’s proposal was part of his state budget address on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.

Marijuana shipment caught by authorities. (Photo: DEA)

Some of New York’s biggest marijuana busts recently have involved smugglers using the U.S. Postal Service and private delivery firms like FedEx.

One saw $22 million worth of marijuana shipped through FedEx to businesses and homes in the Bronx and New Rochelle. Authorities allege 6,600 pounds of pot passed through the trafficking ring dubbed Operation Green Giant, and 10 people face a bevy of federal charges in the case.

The bust in the fall unfolded after agents caught one of the men with $230,000 at San Francisco International Airport, and FedEx provided records on 330 suspected pot shipments, court records show.

New York Drug Enforcement Administration Special-Agent-in-Charge James Hunt described the typical marijuana smuggling case as a mix of opportunism and new technology.

Some dealers track their deliveries in real time across the country, playing the odds that the product will seep through cracks in a system handling millions of packages each day. Some bundles ship to unsuspecting homes and businesses, where drug runners intercept them outside front doors.

A $100,000 investment in West Coast weed easily turns into $200,000 when sold at East Coast prices.

“That’s a big budget margin for a drug trafficker,” Hunt said, describing a growing underbelly of “weed connoisseurs” in New York demanding high-quality pot from California, British Columbia and parts of the Pacific Northwest called the Emerald Triangle.

FedEx officials wouldn’t discuss the case that seemingly showed how dozens of pot shipments went unnoticed for more than a year.

“We comply with all applicable federal, state and local regulations, and cooperate with law enforcement authorities in their investigations of criminal activity involving our services or network,” said FedEx spokesman Davina Cole.

Postal service and cartels

More recently, another 12 people were accused of using the Postal Service to ship 220 pounds of marijuana from California to Rochester. The alleged smuggling involved about 1,000 packages sent between August 2015 and earlier this year.

The Postal Service Inspection Service, a federal law enforcement agency, didn’t respond to questions about efforts to curb marijuana smuggling through the mail.

The DEA’s Hunt noted that many of the marijuana shipments get through simply due to volume.

“I would be foolish to think we’re getting more than a portion of it,” he said. “They could send multiple packages, and the easier you can smuggle and transport something the more difficult it is for law enforcement.”

The Postal Service and private delivery companies have systems to target marijuana and drug smuggling, Hunt said, but the DEA generally stays focused on catching the big operations.

“We don’t spend our time doing hit or miss; We’re in the business of investigation,” he said.

That means a lot of attention to Mexican cartels, which can turn a few hundred dollars of pot into $2,000-plus stateside. The equation translates to major marijuana profits each year for deadly traffickers like the Sinaloa cartel.

“The Mexican cartels are the Walmarts, and the smaller weed-connoisseurs traffickers are the convenience store,” Hunt said. “Cartels are doing literally billions of dollars in Mexican marijuana even though it is not the same quality as the Emerald Triangle bud.”

Big Apple’s pot appetite

Marijuana smuggling offers a case study in supply and demand, and New York City seems to have the highest appetite for pot in the world despite its unlawful trade.

The Big Apple’s marijuana use topped a ranking of global cities in 2017. It consumed about 77 metric tons, or 170,000 pounds, of pot that year, USA Today reported. The next two highest cities were Karachi, Pakistan, and New Delhi, India, at 42 and 38 tons consumed, respectively.

Two other U.S. cities cracked the top 10 list with Los Angeles at No. 4 (36 tons) and Chicago at No. 8 (25 tons).

“The biggest thing for marijuana is that it’s so widely abused… It’s so pervasive there are a lot of people who hold legitimate jobs and go to work and even have families who smoke marijuana,” Hunt said,

He then contrasted marijuana users with users of drugs like heroin and cocaine.

“A lot of marijuana users are not the criminal element…You don’t find the same people like an opiate addict or a crack addict doing stick-ups and robbing people at gunpoint or breaking into houses to buy drugs,” he said.

Public-safety risks exist in the marijuana trade, however, at the crossroads of money and gangs. The recent arrests in the Bronx and New Rochelle, for instance, involved firearms, court records show.

“Gangs protect their turf, and the gang’s mission is to protect itself from the other gangs and that’s where the weaponry comes in,” Hunt said.

Marijuana smuggling turns to mail, FedEx to feed demand in New York

Legally-Blunt

Posted by Meital Manzuri, Esq. | Jan 20, 2017 | 7 Comments

As the California legal marijuana marketplace grows, both sellers and consumers are increasingly wondering if it is possible to legally mail marijuana within the United States. The answer is a simple and resounding no. Importantly, this holds true regardless of whether the shipment origin or destination have laws legalizing marijuana. Let’s understand why.

Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is a Schedule I drug. Schedule 1 controlled substances are those which, in the opinion of the United States government have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.

And when it comes to our country’s mail delivery services, federal law trumps all other laws of the land. As a result, mailing marijuana is illegal across all modes of mail delivery. This includes private carriers such as FedEx and UPS as well as the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Marijuana and the United States Postal Service

Using USPS

Because the USPS is a federal government agency, it must strictly obey federal guidelines. Using the United States Postal Service to mail weed — even within the territorial limits of California (a pot-legal state) — is a felony under 18 U.S. Code 1716.

However, as U.S. postal workers are federal government employees, they need a warrant based on probable cause in order to search a package for drugs. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, “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.”

Since the USPS offers some protection against search and seizure, it can understandably seem to be the safest way to ship marijuana. However, if a package seems suspicious, the USPS can get a search warrant. While this might seem like an acceptable risk, the punishment for mailing drugs through the U.S. mail can include up to a year in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Using UPS or FedEx to Ship Marijuana

Using Third-Party Carriers

Unlike the USPS, private third-party carriers – such as UPS, FedEx and DHL – are not federal agencies. As such, they do not even have to obtain a warrant to search a suspicious package.

Indeed, the Supreme Court has ruled that giving your package to a third-party “removes any reasonable expectation of privacy.” This means that private carriers have the right to open and inspect any package at their own discretion.

Furthermore, large private carriers have affirmed over and over again their willingness to cooperate with federal law enforcement in cracking down on illegal drug trafficking via mail.

For example, in 2014 FedEx was indicted for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances by transporting illegal painkillers and other prescription drugs. And in 2013, UPS paid $40 million to settle a federal probe into shipping drugs from illegal online pharmacies. Though neither of these cases involved cannabis, it shows how big the incentive is for private carriers such as UPS and FedEx to monitor packages for illegal drugs.

Risks of Shipping Weed by Mail

There risks of mailing marijuana are significant. For one thing, you can be charged under either federal law or the law of the state in which the cannabis shipment originated or the state to which it was delivered. Furthermore, charges will be compounded for interstate trafficking as well as based on the quantity of the marijuana. And under federal guidelines, mailing as little as 50 grams or less of marijuana can land in the federal penitentiary for up to five years.

Worsening matters, USPS and private carriers’ employees are offered a “reward” of up to $50,000 for information leading to convictions of persons mailing illegal substances. Even if you are only the recipient of the package, if you knowingly receive marijuana in the mail, your participation in the shipment is enough for you to be charged with conspiracy to distribute an illegal substance.

In sum, postal services are not drug mules. With the rise in the number of states legalizing marijuana, the DEA is now more than ever keeping a close eye on the shipment of packages across the country.

Yes — it is possible to transport your marijuana via mail. It happens every day and people get away with it. But remember, you’re playing the odds. The best advice we can give our clients is not to use the mail to ship your pot. At the very least, mail no more than 28 grams – California’s limit on recreational marijuana possession – and only within the borders of California.

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice.

Legally-Blunt Posted by Meital Manzuri, Esq. | Jan 20, 2017 | 7 Comments As the California legal marijuana marketplace grows, both sellers and consumers are increasingly wondering if it is