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How do you stop people from mailing weed illegally? Local law enforcement is trying to figure it out

CINCINNATI — Ricky Lee Harris Germany delivered mail. He drove city U.S. Post Office Route 7 in Columbus for five years.

Then, a lunch habit bit him.

In September of 2018, an anonymous tip to U.S Postal Inspectors claimed Germany stole over 100 pounds of weed out of the mail over a six month period.

The unidentified person, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court, said Germany spent lunch breaks checking large parcels, mostly from California, for drugs. If he found marijuana or methamphetamine, Germany took them home, where a contact allegedly took the drugs to sell and split money with Germany.

Germany told postal inspectors his primary parcel target was marijuana.

He pled guilty in September 2019 to possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.

The WCPO 9 I-Team examined court records that show police agencies seize varying quantities of marijuana products shipped to the Tri-State nearly every month.

In 2012, former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson pled guilty after accepting a two-pound shipment of marijuana at his Kentucky home.

But that is old-school.

“Vaping is huge in the United States right now,” said E.R. Beach, owner of Hemptations. He has stores in Northside, O’Bryonville and Sharonville that sell CBD and hemp products. “It’s a new trend in cannabis, period. You can go out in public with them and no one knows. It’s a lot easier to hide your consumption with a THC vape cartridge.”

E. R. Beach, owner of Hemptations

Vape oil, whether it’s used with THC or nicotine, is flavored and, when heated, the vapor and smell is no different than other vape products, Beach and law enforcement officers said.

Beach sells hemp clothes, paper, plastic and food in his stores. He does not receive marijuana through the mail. But, when you work 25 years in his industry, you hear things, Beach said.

“Our medical marijuana program charges almost $500 (an ounce) for medicine, where you can get it shipped from Colorado probably for $250 a (ounce),” he said.

The Postal Service said in a statement it has “no interest in being the unwitting accomplice” to anyone distributing illegal drugs or paraphernalia in the mail. Inspectors, though, admit to seizing thousands of drug shipments and have a standing $50,000 reward for information about drugs or drug payments going through the mail.

“Our objectives are to rid the mail of illicit drug trafficking and the associated violence, preserve the integrity of the mail, and, most importantly, provide a safe environment for postal employees and Postal Service customers – the American public,” Kathryn Woliung, U.S. postal inspector and team leader public information officer said in a statement.

Kilos of THC vape cartridges seized

Last October, the Butler County Regional Narcotics Task Force intercepted a shipment of 952 vape cartridges, seven pounds of marijuana and THC disguised as lip balm, tootsie rolls, cannabis syrup and gummies packaged in birthday gift wrapping paper.

Records of executed search warrants made public show postal inspectors seized more than 38 kilograms of THC vape cartridges that same month in Milford. The package came from Montebello, California, through Priority Mail.

That same day, postal inspectors caught a priority mail shipment from Laguna Hills, California, to Oxford. It contained 1.5 kilos of THC vape cartridges and brown wax suspected to be THC wax.

A third seizure that found almost 24 kilos of THC vape cartridges was sent priority mail from La Mesa, California, to Hamilton.

“I really didn’t see them except for the last year or two,” Chris Coners, director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force, said. “Now, we’re seeing them in the thousands. We’re seizing thousands of them.”

Chris Coners, Director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force.

Coners said marijuana seizures in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties are smaller than the 300- to 500-pound hauls cops used to get in the ’90s.

What they seize now, though, is three times more expensive, he said. With THC potency near 80 percent in everything they seize, Coners thinks he knows the source.

“Nowadays we are receiving marijuana in this area that comes from those states, predominantly in the west: California, Washington, Oregon (and) Colorado,” Coners said. Recreational marijuana is legal in those states, plus eight others.

Leftovers lawsuit

The WCPO 9 I-Team asked for harvest and inventory data from the four states Coners named.

An email from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board claims it does not “not have any way to answer” our questions.

A spokesperson for the California Cannabis Control Board first said “the state does not track that data.” Then, the California Department of Food and Agriculture told us “all of that data is confidential.”

Oregon and Colorado post numbers online.

In 2017, Colorado reported 26 percent of legally grown marijuana flower and buds went unsold. A year later, the figure rose to 29 percent. The state had only partial stats for 2019.

Oregon’s February inventory had 1.3 million pounds of useable, edible and marijuana concentrate. That is double what growers sold in the previous 12 months.

Growers in that state are supposed to destroy leftovers. So the onus is on police to prove any part of legal crops illegally land in the Tri-State.

“We do interviews,” Coners said. “We use other resources to determine the source of whatever we seized. Not always, but we often do find out where it originates whether or not we can put a case on those locations or people. The truth is a lot of it does get through, obviously.”

The National Police Foundation claims marijuana overproduction “has created issues for bordering states.”

In 2014, Oklahoma and Nebraska sued Colorado. The two states claimed flows of black market marijuana from Colorado “undermined their drug bans, drained treasuries and stressed criminal justice systems.”

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear that lawsuit.

Whatever rules or laws Kentucky passes, Coners’ team will enforce them, he said. He is also certain that drug smugglers will still try to deal by car, plane, train or parcel.

“The challenge hasn’t changed,” Coners said. “They’re trying not to get caught and our job is to figure out who is legally involved.”

The WCPO 9 I-Team examined court records that show police agencies seize varying quantities of marijuana products shipped to the Tri-State nearly every month.

What are the Penalties for Mailing Marijuana Through the Postal Service?

Mailing marijuana is illegal, the US Postal Service will intercept your package, and you may be arrested…

This seems like it would be obvious, but people keep doing it. Every year, thousands of parcels are intercepted – for example, postal inspectors seized 39,301 pounds of marijuana in 2014 and 34,305 pounds in 2015.

Is it only illegal if you mail marijuana across state lines? What happens if you mail marijuana to an address in your own state? What if you live in a state where marijuana is legal for recreational use?

What are the Penalties for Mailing Marijuana?

Mailing marijuana is illegal under federal law, but it may also carry penalties under your state’s law. Although it varies from case to case, you could be charged in federal court, state court, or both…

What are the penalties for mailing marijuana under federal law and what are the penalties for mailing marijuana under South Carolina state law?

Federal Law Prohibits Mailing Controlled Substances

If you are busted mailing marijuana, you’ve probably violated more than a handful of federal laws. Just a few of the federal offenses you may be charged with include:

  • Trafficking in marijuana;
  • Misuse of the mail;
  • Mailing of “injurious articles;” and
  • Conspiracy.

The potential penalties for mailing marijuana under federal law vary widely and may include mandatory minimum penalties depending on your criminal history. Some of the factors that will go into sentencing in federal court include:

  • The amount of marijuana that was mailed by you;
  • The amounts of marijuana mailed by other people if you are charged in a criminal conspiracy;
  • Your criminal history, which can increase the sentencing range or result in a mandatory minimum sentence depending on the drug weight or whether you have certain types of prior convictions;
  • Whether you accept responsibility (plead guilty); and
  • Whether you “cooperate” with the authorities and how valuable your cooperation is to them.

Federal and state marijuana laws are changing quickly and may change dramatically in the next few years, but it’s not likely that it will become legal to mail large quantities of marijuana anytime soon, if ever.

For now, mailing marijuana in an amount less than 50 kilos carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if you have no criminal record and you are not charged with other federal crimes that carry additional penalties. The potential penalties double for a second offense – up to ten years and a fine of up to $500,000.

State Law in SC Prohibits Possessing or Trafficking Marijuana

What if the feds decide not to prosecute? Are you off the hook?

Possession or distribution of any amount of marijuana is illegal in South Carolina under state law, and possession or distribution of more than the amount permitted for personal use is illegal in every state, even “legal” states.

Five People Were Charged with Trafficking Marijuana Through the Mail in SC

As an example, we can look at five people who were recently charged with trafficking marijuana in Sumter, SC.

After a month’s long investigation, four people were charged with trafficking marijuana and conspiracy, while another person was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

Three of the five were charged with trafficking marijuana in an amount between 100 and 2000 pounds. According to the article, though, only 14 pounds of marijuana were seized – six pounds that were delivered through the postal service and another eight pounds that were seized while serving a warrant after law enforcement made a controlled delivery of the packages.

How do 14 pounds turn into greater than one hundred pounds?

The article is not clear about this, but we can assume that, because the defendants are also charged with conspiracy to traffic marijuana, they are being charged with the drug weights mailed or received by their alleged co-conspirators as well as packages that were not seized by law enforcement…

What are the Penalties for Mailing Marijuana Under SC State Law?

Trafficking in marijuana carries a minimum of one year and up to ten years in prison under SC law if the weight is less than 100 pounds and if it is the person’s first offense. On a second offense, it carries a minimum of five years and up to 20 years in prison…

If the amount of marijuana is less than 2000 pounds, like the charges of three of the Sumter defendants above, it carries a mandatory prison sentence of 25 years in prison.

How Do Police Catch People Who Mail Marijuana?

Marijuana has a distinctive odor, and, no matter how well you package it with vacuum seals, coffee grounds, or other odor controls, K-9 units will most likely be able to pick up on the scent. Even the slightest particles transferred from your hand to the bag may be enough to alert a trained dog to the presence of marijuana.

Of course, if it’s not vacuum sealed and odor-protected, human postal workers will also pick up on the scent…

In other cases, authorities may be tipped off by associates who have an axe to grind or who have been arrested themselves. In either case, law enforcement can quickly get a search warrant, confirm the contents of the package, and then set up a “controlled delivery,” where they allow the package to be delivered and received as law enforcement monitors and possibly records the transaction.

After the controlled delivery, law enforcement will return with arrest warrants and a search warrant for the residence where the weed was delivered.

Can I Mail Marijuana in a Legal State?

Although federal law prohibits the mailing of controlled substances between states, even mailing marijuana from one location to another within a legal state could subject you to arrest and prosecution.

Federal law aside, even in “legal” states it is not legal to possess or distribute marijuana in amounts greater than what is allowed for personal use.

When can you mail marijuana?

Never. Do not mail marijuana or any controlled substances.

SC Marijuana Defense Lawyers in Myrtle Beach

If you do find yourself accused of mailing marijuana through the postal service, do not make any statements to law enforcement or “go in for questioning” until you have met with your criminal defense attorney. The Myrtle Beach marijuana defense lawyers at Coastal Law will investigate your case, negotiate a dismissal or other agreement that you agree with, or take your case to trial.

Call now at (843) 488-5000 or send a message through the website to speak with a SC marijuana defense attorney today.

Ready to Speak with an Attorney?

Contact Coastal Law to discuss your situation.

The penalties for mailing marijuana depend on the weight of the marijuana, whether you are charged in state or federal court, and your criminal history. ]]>