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
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.