The USPS tells Leafly that the anti e-cig law will apply to the entire vaping industry. (AbodbeStock)
The United States Postal Service has served the American people for almost 250 years as one of the oldest and most venerable US institutions. You’ll 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 centuries, yet many Americans still don’t fully grasp the organization’s mailing laws. Namely, what is the risk of mailing or shipping weed or edibles through the mail?
The short answer: mailing flower, edibles, vapes or any other cannabis product is federally illegal. Postal inspectors play a key role in helping wage the nation’s War on Drugs, including cannabis. As one of the country’s oldest law enforcement agencies, they work to identify and prosecute major drug mailers and intercept illegal drug proceeds that traffickers attempt to send through the mail.
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? The long answer is a little more complicated, and we’re here to break it down.
Potential penalties for mailing weed
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. Additionally, as a government agency, the United States Postal Service is subject to federal law; any illegal use of their services is a felony. Plus, marijuana is still 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. More than 200 federal laws protect the sanctity of the US mail, enforced by the US Postal Inspection Service.
We should also note 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.
Mailing hemp and delta-8 products
With the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill came the federal legalization of hemp and hemp-derived products, which are defined as having less than 0.3% THC. Hemp products can be mailed legally within the United States by the USPS as well as private mailers like FedEx and UPS, though there are some exceptions, such as vaporizers, and legality depends on if the sender or delivery state has laws in place that prohibit it.
Now you might be thinking that the rise of delta-8 THC, a hemp-derived cannabinoid with intoxicating effects that differs from delta-9, offers a loophole. You can extract it from federally-legal hemp plants, so you should be able to ship it anywhere in the country, right? Well, no. Delta-8’s legal status currently exists in a gray area; while the DEA has listed it alongside delta-9 THC on its scheduled substances list, it hasn’t been officially scheduled as such, yet.
But some states have passed their own laws against shipping and selling it, likely because its products do not have to be tested and regulated like delta-9 THC. So if you live in a state that allows it, yes, you can ship delta-8 products (minus vapes) through the USPS.
What about mailing weed through private couriers like UPS or FedEx?
In terms of alternative carriers within the US, there are a number of private couriers. The big three outside of USPS are FedEx, UPS, and DHL. A discerning cannabis shipper might ask “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. They all also specify that shipping any form of marijuana remains illegal and “unacceptable.” 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.” We should note that none of these couriers’ policies explicitly address delta-8 products.
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