An internal audit of the US Postal Service (USPS) discovered that the service fails to properly follow guidelines for handling seized marijuana parcels. And, as a result, some of these packages myseriously get lost or stolen.
The audit, released last week by the USPS Office of the Inspector General (OIG), reports that in 2019, the USPS confiscated 15,941 packages that were suspected to contain weed. The report also notes that over 200 of these seized weed packages inexplicably vanished, instead of being mailed to law enforcement officials. The OIG blames these lost parcels on the fact that employees are not following the recommended procedures for handling suspected cannabis shipments.
Although it is possible to package weed in a way that will disguise its smell, many would-be smugglers fail to do so, making it easy for postal workers to recognize the contents of a cannabis package. The audit notes that packaged weed can “emit a strong odor and can be easily detected,” increasing “the risk of theft by postal employees processing this mail,” Marijuana Moment reports. “When packages suspected of containing illicit drugs are lost or stolen, there is an increased risk that those drugs could be illegally distributed or used.”
Federal law requires that suspected cannabis packages be sent to a specific government location to allow for proper inspection. USPS policy recommends specific guidelines for the handling of these packages, but does not actually require employees to follow them. The OIG reports that 98 percent of the packages that were "lost" were actually sent to federal authorities using standard Express or Priority mail, rather than a more secure method, making it easy for other mail employees to abscond with the packages.
Postal inspectors who discover suspected weed packages are asked to place them in a retrieval container that is “accessible to all Post Service and Inspection Service employees,” according to the audit. The OIG also notes that all suspected pot parcels are tagged with a specific symbol, which can notify the presence of weed to any postal employee who sees the package.
The audit recommends that the USPS update its policy to “require the use of more controlled mailing methods and communicate the requirement to all divisions.” The OIG also recommends that the USPS repackage all suspect parcels in scent-proof packaging, a trick which Canada Post uses to prevent illegal weed packages from being stolen by their own employees.
According to reports, the postal service accepts many of the OIG's recommendations, but rejected the suggestion that they should use scent-proof packaging. Postal officials noted this kind of packaging “does not exist for the overwhelming majority of parcels processed,” and notes that Canada Post was only using this packaging for smaller parcels containing under 30 grams of pot.
The recent legalization of hemp may also confuse the issue further. Hemp is entirely legal, and therefore can be sent through the mail, but it is impossible to smell the difference between illegal bud and legal hemp flower. This issue may force the USPS to take a fresh look at its cannabis-handling regulations.