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U.S. mail system a “safe” way to ship marijuana?

Shipping drugs through the U.S. mail system

Shipping drugs through the U.S. mail system

MILWAUKEE (WITI) — A lot of crazy things have happened under the “Golden Arches” recently.

In April, a topless mom trashed a McDonald’s in Florida, even pausing her rampage to guzzle some soft serve out of the ice cream machine.

In Norway one man w

as ‘lovin’ it’ so much he branded himself with a McDonald’s receipt.

Back in Milwaukee, a man from Whitefish Bay named Ed Patterson said he just wanted to follow in his family’s footsteps. So, early last year, he bought his neighborhood McDonald’s — the same store his father had owned when he was just a boy.

In 2012 the Drug Enforcement Administration started investigating what they would later call the Patterson Drug Trafficking Organization.

Patterson operated three McDonald’s restaurants in Fox Point, Mequon, and Glendale. Federal authorities say he used his fast food empire to launder drug money and conceal his most lucrative business: marijuana.

Patterson and his buddies were arrested last fall, and the criminal complaint that followed shows how he was able to use the United States Postal Service to ship hundreds of thousand of dollars of pot from Mendocino County, California to Wisconsin.

“The price usually doubles or triples once it goes from there to here to Wisconsin,” says Jeffrey Zientek, a canine handler for the West Allis Police Department.

An informant told police Patterson had decided to start what he called the “mail thing” after some of his crew had been pulled over with weed in their cars on their way back from California.

“People are now more afraid to transport it by ground,” Zientek says.

So Patterson started mailing the pot home for about $10 a pound. Because the parcels couldn’t be too heavy, he’d only put a few pounds of pot in each package. During the Fall of 2012, he was allegedly shipping nearly 60 pounds a month, or roughly $250,000 worth of weed — for the cost of postage.

“You are playing the odds. Yes, you might get away with it one or two times, but you will eventually get caught,” Zientek says.

Zientek and his dog, Sonny, help law enforcement agencies all over Southeast Wisconsin try to weed out packages full of, well, weed.

‘The wackiest is somebody taking duct tape, silver duct tape, and taping their box together from California or something,” he says.

“And the box literally without even going near it with a canine you can smell the narcotic seeping through the box itself.”

He says shipping drugs through the mail is probably safer than it should be. For one, law enforcement doesn’t have the resources to try to figure out where the drugs came from and who’s expecting them.

“It takes a lot of man hours to figure something like that out,” he explains.

So if it’s not an easy case to crack, he says, local law enforcement agencies just seize the package and move on. Nobody gets arrested and nobody gets the drugs.

In April, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska called Attorney General Eric Holder to task on the issue during budget meetings.

“We are being beat on these issues and the impact to our communities again, utilizing legal processes to get these drugs in that are in many cases wiping out families. We need some assistance here,” she said.

“The drugs are coming into the community through the mails.”

The Attorney General agreed, but didn’t offer a solution.

“It is shocking to see the amount of drugs that get pumped into communities all around this country through our mail system,” Holder said.

“We have to deal with that. It’s a major problem that we have to deal with.”

But it’s unclear how it’s currently being dealt with. For example, the FOX6 investigators have collected dozens of search warrants. In all of the cases, it was found, police officers got permission to search suspicious packages and drugs were in fact found inside.

But a search of state and federal records shows no arrests were made in connection with the packages. The boxes were opened, and the drugs were found, but it seems nobody got in trouble. If drugs are shipped through the U.S. mail, as opposed to a private courier, a federal search warrant is required before a package can be opened.

“We are doing all we can to make sure the mail is safe,” says U.S. Postal Inspector Brian Haraway.

He says the Postal Service knows the mail is being used to transport all kinds of drugs, but they don’t know how often people are being caught.

In 2013 U.S. Postal Inspectors seized about 9,000 packages of marijuana that had been sent in the mail. That’s 20 % more than the year before.

But Haraway says there’s no way of telling how much pot actually made it through safely.

Patterson and his crew were never caught on video at any mail facilities, but investigators say records show that between April 2012 and September 2013, at least 35 packages of marijuana were shipped from California to Milwaukee by U.S. Express Mail. The return addresses were imaginary.

According to the criminal complaint,

Patterson said he wanted to make a $2 million profit before marijuana becomes legalized nationally.

And with the help of the United States Postal System, federal investigators say he was able to successfully ship somewhere between 200 and 800 pounds of marijuana before getting caught — easily a $1 million dollar business.

“Eventually you will get caught. If you send once or twice and get lucky, but the famous saying is ‘they have to get lucky all the time and law enforcement only has to get lucky once,'” Zientek says.

Patterson’s trial was supposed to start May 5, but it’s postponed so the parties can reach a plea deal.

U.S. mail system a “safe” way to ship marijuana? Shipping drugs through the U.S. mail system Shipping drugs through the U.S. mail system MILWAUKEE (WITI) — A lot of crazy things have

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.