Federal workers at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) aren’t adhering to internal shipping guidelines after discovering illegal marijuana packages in the mail, and seized cannabis is being lost—or stolen—in the shuffle. The agency’s failure to take steps to cover up the plant’s pungent smell is a key reason.
That’s according to a new audit from the USPS’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which analyzed the agency’s handling of suspected marijuana shipments. The report, released last week, shows that USPS lost more than 200 packages believed to contain cannabis in fiscal year 2019—and a big part of the problem seems to be that “postal inspectors did not use suggested mailing methods.”
Tracking data indicates that 188 of the 15,941 confiscated packages were lost because “policy recommends, but does not require, postal inspectors to use a more controlled mailing method.”
The report notes that packages with marijuana “emit a strong odor and can be easily detected,” contributing to the problem and increasing “the risk of theft by postal employees processing this mail.”
“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,” it states. “In addition, when suspect packages which contain legitimate mailable items are sent to [government location redacted] and are lost, this could impact the Postal Service’s brand reputation.”
New OIG report about USPS: U.S. Postal Inspection Service Handling of Suspected Marijuana Packages https://t.co/OQzfiWFLBO
— Oversight.gov (@OversightGov) March 16, 2020
According to the OIG’s findings, 98 percent of the suspected cannabis-containing packages that were lost had been sent using Express and Priority mail, as opposed to more a secure recommended method.
As part of the agency’s review, they interviewed representatives at the Canada Post to compare notes and found that our neighbors up north take the added precaution of using scent-proof packaging when transporting mail suspected of containing illicit drugs, which has “contributed to a decrease in package theft and an increase in package safety.”
The OIG recommended that USPS update its internal policy to “require the use of more controlled mailing methods and communicate the requirement to all divisions” in addition to adopting the Canadian model by mandating the use of scent-proof packaging for contraband.
The OIG also flagged the use of a certain redacted symbol or marking that USPS uses on marijuana-containing packages that are shipped internally as a problem that could lead to the parcels being stolen.
Another finding from the audit concerns how packages suspected of containing illicit drugs are handed off to responsible parties.
A retrieval container in which postal workers are able to deposit the packages is near a workroom floor that’s “accessible to all Post Service and Inspection Service employees,” the report notes. But while there are security cameras stationed at those locations, there’s a level of unaccountability that could compromise the process.
Policy requires that such mail should be secured and then “transferred hand-to-hand to the designated dispatch employee.” However, failing to adhere to these requirements “could contribute to the loss or theft of packages suspected of containing illicit drugs,” the OIG said.
USPS accepted some of the OIG’s recommendations but pushed back on the suggestion that more secured internal shipping methods be required as well as the idea of using scent-proof packaging.
The agency claimed that such packaging “does not exist for the overwhelming majority of parcels processed.” In an interesting acknowledgement that legalizing cannabis helps control and regulate the substance, USPS wrote that “Canada Post utilized scent proof packaging for retailers and customers for legal shipments of marijuana under 30 grams.”
There could be further complications down the line for USPS, as another consequential policy change was unveiled in the middle of 2019. Since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, USPS announced that such products are legal to mail under certain circumstances since they are no longer a federally controlled substance.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Kevin Payravi.