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Can you mail weed or edibles through the mail legally?
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.
According to their terms and conditions, FedEx not only prohibits the mailing of cannabis flower and THC products, but also hemp plants, oil, and seeds. Compliant CBD products, however, can now be shipped. To compound this, in 2014, the US Department of Justice indicted FedEx with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances over its alleged role in transporting illegal prescription drugs. While this isn’t marijuana, it does strongly indicate that FedEx and other private couriers will be scrutinizing packages much more closely for any illegal substances.
UPS similarly prohibits shipping any cannabis products, but it does allow for raw hemp plants and CBD products that comply with state and federal laws (minus vapes), as long as they are shipped domestically and do not come from companies who also produce or handle marijuana or THC products.
DHL accepts packages containing hemp plants and derived products with under 0.3% THC, but only within the US. While DHL claims to inspect 100% of their packages, they and other couriers are not required to x-ray all shipments.
The USPS seems like the safest bet
In contrast to these policies, the US Postal Service seems like the preferred carrier for many drug shippers because it offers more stringent Fourth Amendment protection. Postal inspectors must acquire a search warrant based on probable cause before inspecting mail and parcels. According to the USPS:
“…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.”
However, although postal inspectors do have to obtain a warrant to search a suspicious package, suspicion alone is enough to get parcels singled out and tracked. USPS actively encourages workers and the public to get involved in the identification of packages containing drugs by offering $50,000 to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and indictment of a drug trafficker.
When it comes right down to the illegal transportation of cannabis via mail, USPS is—relatively!—your safest bet. And we mean relatively. Remember, the act is an illegal one and, without a doubt, carries a significant level of risk.
What happens when USPS or FedEx finds weed in packages? Are there penalties?
Crunching the numbers, the Postal Service faces an enormous task in preventing the trafficking of illicit substances. Put simply, the sheer volume of packages the carrier handles every day offers the chance that contraband packages will get delivered unchecked; the United States Postal Inspection Service enforces over 200 laws with over 1,200 inspectors. They can put their collective shoulder to the wheel, but no matter how hard they try, it is virtually impossible for the USPS to catch all wrongdoers. In 2015 alone, they seized 34,000 pounds of marijuana from mailed packages.
For third party couriers, the onus of responsibility falls on them to report illicit packages to the authorities, who can acquire warrants and open investigations. Without reported data, it’s impossible to estimate how many packages found to contain marijuana or other scheduled substances have been cited to open investigations.
Shipping drugs through the mail probably seems safer than it should be. The USPS, as well as partnering law enforcement agencies, simply don’t have the resources to try to figure out where the drugs are coming from and who’s expecting them.
However, it would be unfair to fault the USPS in the matter; they are just not equipped to x-ray and investigate each package, nor is there an official x-ray policy. Not only are packages given extra protection, as we’ve outlined, but the agency has also been losing money pretty much every year for the last decade due to a decrease in mail volume. The increasingly under-resourced organization faces increasing pressure to downsize, exerted by the government.
In 2016, despite turning a profit in a financial quarter for the first time in five years, President Obama still proposed the agency slash 12,000 employees in his fiscal 2017 budget. The Trump-appointed and current Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, has made further cuts to plant locations, office hours, and mail delivery times.
Does where I’m mailing the weed to impact the risk?
In short, no. Since the USPS operates on federal law, it remains illegal and risky to mail cannabis and cannabis products anywhere in the US, including out of the country, state to state, and within a state, even if medical and/or adult-use laws are in place. Like third party couriers, the USPS does ship compliant hemp-derived products within the US if state laws allow, and most states allow the shipping of delta-8 products.
What makes a package suspicious?
Post inspectors have a long list of signs and tells that help them determine if a package could contain marijuana or other illicit substances. In fact, in 2016 the USPS founded the Administrative Non-Mailability Protocol (ANP) program, which “does not require postal inspectors to obtain search warrants to open detained packages.” In fact, if a package is detained and they don’t receive a response form the mailer or addressee in 21 days, the package is considered abandoned and they can open it anyway. Factors that raise suspicion with packages include:
- Outdated, handwritten or missing return addresses
- Odd shapes
- Excessively taped
- Excessive postage
- Leaking unidentifiable substances
- Excessive odor
What about mailing edibles, cartridges, and concentrates?
Unfortunately, if it’s got any THC above 0.3%, any cannabis-derived edible, cartridge, concentrate, and even topical can be seized and even used as proof of a drug-trafficking crime. Even CBD and delta-8 vapes are prohibited, though CBD and delta-8 edibles and concentrates that comply with federal and state regulations are allowed.
Drug trafficking is an existing problem
Ever since the closure of the infamous Silk Road and the media furor surrounding it, people now know of the existence and the nefarious proclivities of particular groups within the Dark Net. Most Americans can access illegal substances with a simple click thanks to Internet access, Dark Net markets, and social networks like Instagram. Still, these hidden, online drug dealers don’t have access to some secret, underground delivery method us mere mortals are unaware of; they simply use the Postal Service.
According to former Attorney General Eric Holder, the problem is endemic:
“The postal service—the mails are—being used to facilitate drug dealing … It is shocking to see the amount of drugs that get pumped into communities all around this country through our mail system, and we have to deal with that.”
Leafly previously contacted the Postal Service in the hope of getting more information on their policies regarding illicit substances, in particular cannabis, being transported in the mail. The USPS promptly responded while also providing some useful data:
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to eradicating illegal drugs and their proceeds from the U.S. Mail. We pursue traffickers of all forms of illegal narcotics—including marijuana, which remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act and is therefore unmailable. Our prohibited narcotics program focuses on the disruption of organized narcotics-trafficking operations, to help protect employees and customers from the violence related to drug trafficking, and to inhibit the spread of illegal or unmailable substances into neighborhoods across America.”
On average, 1,000 suspects are arrested by postal inspectors each year for trafficking drugs and laundering drug money via the U.S mail in 2019, they made over 2,500. In addition to seizing cash obtained through criminal activity, postal inspectors have used federal forfeiture laws to seize houses, vehicles, boats, artwork, and other high-value items purchased with drug money.
Statistical trends: Mailing marijuana and other drugs
Despite these hefty risks, and the fact more than half the country has legal access to either medicinal or adult use programs, some cannabis users continue to dismiss the run-of-the-mill driving delivery system and keep mailing their product. In 2019, the USPS processed almost 55,000 packages they suspected of containing marijuana.
The black market, even in adult-use states, continues to thrive, so many might find mailing weed a lucrative endeavor. Even as DEA seizures od marijuana continue to decline year after year, it’s unclear if this trend will be reflected in weed packaged mailed.
We’ve previously reported that while the overall number and weight of marijuana package seizures has been declining for years, there was an uptick in 2016; since then, however, the numbers seem to decline, but no one really knows just how much marijuana successfully makes it through the Postal Service undiscovered. Is it just a coincidence, though, that the level of detected cannabis has fallen as more states wholly legalize?
Prohibition has been seen in the past to encourage and incentivize the black market. Perhaps, as cannabis becomes increasingly mainstream and regulated, the lure of the black market will wane through easier access and the realization that shipping the drug is no longer worth the risk of harsh federal charges.
Why do people risk getting caught mailing cannabis?
Is it really such a bad thing to put some eighths in the mail? Why are there so many people willing to take a chance on something like mailing cannabis? Actually, the data shows that it’s likely happening less and less.
Increasingly favorable legislation in the US, coupled with Canada’s federal legalization and Mexico’s recent decriminalization, means more legal avenues for cannabis careers, and by extension, a drop in related crimes. The latest data shows that while agents hit a seizures pinnacle in 2009, getting their hands on around 4 million pounds of cannabis, they only confiscated about 1.5 million pounds last year. In 2021, the DEA made less than 1,000 marijuana trafficking charges.
But let’s face it, the USPS has been in financial trouble for the better part of a decade. In the past 10 years, total volume has declined by more than 56 billion pieces (or 26%), first-class mail volume has declined by 34.5 billion pieces, and single-piece first-class mail (primarily letters bearing postage stamps) has declined by 24.4 billion pieces.This translates to $47 billion in operating losses since 1971. Ultimately, can beggars be choosers? To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, traffic, is traffic, is traffic.
This post was originally published on July 26, 2016. It was most recently updated on May 18, 2022.
CBD Shipping 101: Can You Ship CBD and Who Will Ship It?
The CBD industry is having a moment. It shouldn’t take you long to notice that it’s one of the fastest-growing categories, with products ranging from CBD-infused water and toothpaste, to CBD dog treats and even activewear.
From supermarkets to teen brands, you can find these products seemingly everywhere today. With increased legalization and awareness, it’s not just large retailers cashing in. Both local brick-and-mortar shops and online stores are also making moves.
The stats speak for themselves:
- The U.S. CBD market as a whole (both hemp-derived and marijuana-derived, where legal) is expected to reach $20 billion by 2024.
- More than one quarter of Americans have tried a CBD product. Of those people, one out of seven use CBD products everyday. have purchased CBD products at a drugstore, and 43% have purchased from online retailers.
With the continuous growth in the industry and a market proving it’s more than just a trend, it’s tempting to break into the CBD business yourself. But before you do, you must do your research, know the legalities and safety protocol, and understand the ins and outs of selling and shipping CBD.
To start, CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the active components of cannabis. CBD is thought to alleviate symptoms without any psychoactive effects from THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the component of marijuana that gets you high), e.g., users say it helps ease pain or soothe occasional anxiety — though the FDA will step in if claims are made that the products can cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent a disease.
Cannabis with a THC concentration above 0.3% is illegal in many countries, including in the U.S. under federal law, and in several U.S. states. However, cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC (known as “hemp”) is legal at the federal level, but legality differs across states. When it comes to selling CBD products, you’ll want to check the state-specific laws around CBD.
Products that include hemp, like alcohol, have legal limits on the quantities of certain ingredients that can be included in products — specifically, THC.
For some states within the United States, the limit of THC in hemp products is zero. This means any products that contain hemp-derived CBD must contain zero THC. In other states, you can use hemp-derived CBD if the THC content is under 0.3%.
This is because of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp production at the federal level across the United States. The Farm Bill states that as long as the hemp in your hemp-derived CBD products contains not more than 0.3% THC, the product is not a federally controlled substance.
In this article, we’ll cover how to ship CBD in a way that’s safe and legal for you and your customers.
Note: This article is solely for informational purposes and does not constitute legal or financial advice.
Is CBD Legal to Ship? 4 Factors to Keep in Mind
Even though hemp-derived CBD is much more widely accepted and legalized than marijuana-containing products, CBD is still closely monitored and regulated. Here are the factors that will help you understand whether your supplier’s CBD is legal to ship.
1. Potency of CBD and THC.
The CBD you ship must have THC levels of not more than 0.3%, and you must be able to verify in writing the CBD and THC levels of the products you are shipping.
2. Origin of plant.
The CBD you sell should come from (be extracted from) hemp plants, not marijuana. Talk to an attorney if your CBD comes from synthetic sources, but the THC level must still be at or below 0.3%. If you’re working with any partners, like a supplier, you’ll need to keep close tabs to make sure that the products consistently hit this standard.
Whether you use a CBD supplier or grow it yourself, any CBD product must come from a licensed grower. In other words, you can’t just ship your uncle’s experimental cannabis plants he grew in his shed. You may be able to legally import into the U.S. a CBD product, but you should consult an attorney.
Both you and your supplier can face legal challenges and risk getting arrested or shut down for selling illegal products. Being a licensed grower means a state government official has oversight over the production of the hemp crop.
4. Testing requirements.
Your CBD-containing products must be third-party tested to demonstrate the chemical makeup of the products you’re selling, including the THC content. Third-party testing may be a prerequisite for some of the above requirements.
Can You Ship CBD?
Shipping CBD is a somewhat complicated matter, as you not only have to comply with any shipping carrier requirements but also ensure it’s legal to ship from the place of origin and legal to receive the product at its destination. Let’s look at who can and can’t ship CBD.
1. Yes: Your CBD business complies with the applicable laws.
You are a considered a “compliant” CBD business if you:
- Have all required licenses — including a grower, processor, or retail license,
- Only sell CBD products containing 0.3% THC or less,
- Only source from growers operating a legitimate, licensed business,
- Have a third-party testing process, and
- Have documented results from this testing.
If you meet all of these requirements, you should be able to ship CBD to locations where it’s legal (with the approved carriers listed below).
2. No: You have anything less than the above requirements.
If you can’t 100% prove that you have met all the prerequisite requirements above, you have a good chance of violating the terms and agreements of the approved carriers below.
If you attempt to ship CBD with a THC level greater than 0.3%, you may face consequences, including arrest, for sending illegal substances through the mail. At the very least, your products can be destroyed in transit upon discovery.
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Top Carriers Who Accept CBD Shipments
Shipping carriers have adopted what they consider acceptable goods to ship over time. You can ship CBD if it is legal, sent only to places that allow it, and if it conforms to the regulations of the following shipping carriers:
USPS allows you to ship CBD if possess a license from a state’s Department of Agriculture authorizing the licensee to produce industrial hemp, and the requirement that the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of such hemp (or its derivatives) may not exceed a 0.3 percent limit.
To ship CBD with UPS, you must be able to identify where the raw materials grew, how they were processed, and how they were obtained (or who shipped the product to the supplier and how that supplier got it to the customer after the fact).
As outlined on their website:
- “UPS accepts products made from Hemp (including Cannabidiol – CBD) for Shipment only as permitted by all applicable state and federal laws. It is the responsibility of the Shipper to ensure compliance with all such laws, including the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. §321, et seq.
- UPS will not accept shipments containing Hemp products from any location that sells Marijuana or Marijuana products.
- UPS reserves the right to dispose of any shipment containing Marijuana, Hemp or Hemp products tendered for shipment which Shippers are prohibited from shipping, which UPS is not authorized to accept, which UPS states that it will not accept, or which UPS has a right to refuse.”
DHL can ship CBD products as long as the shipper meets these requirements:
- The shipment contains hemp or hemp-based products that contain no more than 0.3% of THC on a dry weight basis.
- The shipper complies with all applicable federal, state, and local laws.
- The shipper retains records establishing compliance with such laws, including laboratory test results, licenses, or compliance reports.
Note: Shippers are not required to present documentation at the time of shipping, but documentation such as certificates may be requested at any time.
3 Considerations Before You Start Fulfilling CBD Orders
Now that you have the basics down for shipping CBD legally, there are some other things to consider to make sure you’re dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s.
1. Slow down on international shipments.
Many countries outside of the United States classify marijuana and hemp-related products as illegal and can press charges or destroy products if you try shipping a dangerous substance to their country.
Make sure you fully understand the destinations to which your business is allowed to legally ship CBD products. Even if CBD is legal in a certain country, you may have trouble shipping items to that country. If you are located in the United States, for example, it may be wise to ship exclusively within the states before expanding anywhere else.
2. Consult your legal team.
If you have a legal team, make sure they read over your statements and clearly identify where you intend to send your CBD products. The CBD industry has become really popular, really quickly — but hemp-derived products are still unlawful in some states. When in doubt, it’s best to consult your lawyer. Although CBD products are not considered controlled substances at the federal level, each state has its own individual laws and rules.
3. Double-check your suppliers.
If you don’t run your own farms or processing/manufacturing facilities and instead work with a supplier, make sure they are not violating any rules or shipping regulations, whether it be related to potency, location of where their CBD is grown, or anything else.
Logistics Partners Who Can Help with CBD Fulfillment
Now that you understand how complex shipping CBD can be, you need to determine how you will fulfill customer orders. If you don’t want to fulfill CBD products yourself, you can partner with a company that takes care of some of these challenges for you so that you can focus on your business — not packing boxes or shipping CBD.
You can outsource CBD shipping to a third-party logistics (3PL) company like ShipBob, a premiere fulfillment partner of BigCommerce. ShipBob works with CBD businesses to store their inventory, pack their orders, and ship their CBD products from their network of fulfillment centers across the United States.
Combined with proprietary technology, ShipBob’s ecommerce fulfillment services help get your CBD products delivered to customers quickly and safely.
CBD company Nature’s Ultra is able to provide 2-day shipping to all of its U.S. customers using ShipBob, so that they can compete with the convenience of Amazon Prime delivery standards. This has allowed them to scale up and become successful — Nature’s Ultra went from $70,000 in sales in 2018 to over $7 million in sales in 2019.
“We were managing shipping and logistics ourselves via USPS, but we didn’t understand just how massive and difficult fulfillment was. Now that we’re working with ShipBob, we can easily ship our CBD products to all 50 United States with ease.”
— Andrew Hardy, COO of Nature’s Ultra
Shipping CBD products is one piece of running a successful CBD business. You also need everything from legal payment processing to creative hemp marketing tactics that follow various regulations and policies set out by everyone from governmental agencies to tech giants like Facebook.
Selling CBD is a lot more complex than selling apparel or a novelty product, and the industry is moving fast and constantly evolving. There have been governmental and societal changes recently, but don’t expect it to stop there. Be sure to stay up-to-date on CBD regulations across the globe as well as carriers’ CBD shipping policies to keep a close eye on what changes.
The above does not constitute legal, tax, professional or financial advice and BigCommerce disclaims any liability with respect to this material. Please consult your attorney or professional advisor on specific legal, professional or financial matters.