Last month, we looked into a question posed in the post "Mailing Marijuana Out of Colorado: Are Your Odds of Getting Caught Going Up?" The answer is not yet in, but there's new evidence that arrestees may be treated severely under the Justice Department of pot-hating Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Arvada's Mark Koenig has been sentenced to just over a year in federal prison for the offense.
Our most recent report was an update of "Mailing Marijuana Out of Colorado: How Likely Are You to Get Caught?," published in November 2015 following an ABC7 Chicago piece with this screaming headline: "MAILING MARIJUANA: OFFICIALS REPORT SPIKE IN POT-LADEN PACKAGES." The report included an interview with Tom Gorman, head of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally funded, anti-pot law enforcement organization that regularly publishes sky-is-falling jeremiads against marijuana legalization.
Gorman has acknowledged in this space that some of the data assembled by the RMHIDTA is opinion-based, meaning it may not pass muster in a scientific survey. But that hasn't stopped plenty of news organizations and anti-pot activists from using it.
At the time of its 2015 report, ABC7 Chicago noted that the U.S. Postal Service was handling more than 155 billion pieces of mail per annum, with a billion-plus going through Chicago.
Of that total, just shy of 8,000 packages containing marijuana were seized in 2014; they cumulatively contained approximately 40,000 pounds of cannabis or cannabis-related products.
How many of them originated in Colorado? ABC7 didn't have those figures, but it did quote RMHIDTA info suggesting that "the amount of intercepted mail containing Colorado marijuana destined for other states has increased over 2,000 times from 2010-2014."
""The Legalization of Marijuana: The Impact, Volume 5, October 2017," the latest RMHIDTA salvo, maintains that the problem has only worsened since then. According to its figures, sourced to the United States Postal Inspection Service, authorities seized 854 parcels mailed from Colorado to another state in 2016, the most recent year for which stats were available. That represents nearly a 32 percent increase over 2015, when 581 pot parcels were seized.
Here's a graphic illustrating the rise, from the RMHIDTA document.
These figures are similar to ones obtained by Denver7 for a new report about mailing marijuana. The station noted that U.S. postal inspectors took more than a year to respond to its Freedom of Information Act request for data — and this year, a new record high has been set.
Here are those numbers:
Are the percentages of marijuana parcels seized rising? Since we don't know how many of these packages are being sent, it's impossible to tell. But Ask a Stoner columnist Herbert Fuego believes that using the U.S. mail to ship pot edibles is generally no big deal. The following is an excerpt from a response to a reader back in December, complete with original links:
Smuggling edibles through the airport or mailing them isn’t very hard if done in small amounts, so it comes down to when you want them to arrive and what you’re more comfortable with. Much to the chagrin of the United States Postal Service, TSA and some square readers, I’ve already told a couple of Stoner inquisitors how easy it is to send edibles through the mail or get them through TSA (which generally doesn’t give a shit), and you can find both guides on westword.com. Mailing is very easy, and probably the safer option if you have a willing participant to receive it. Just don’t use your real return address — and don’t be lazy about the packaging: Make it discreet.
This advice doesn't appear to have been followed by Koenig, 36, who was described in a story about the Denver cannabis industry published circa 2013 by the U.K.- based Independent newspaper as a "former finance professional who now works as a weed industry consultant in the Mile High City."
The Independent quotes Koenig as saying, "A couple of years back, I wanted to make a decision about my future. I was looking at the economy, talking to my friends on Wall Street who analyze other industries. A couple of hedge fund manager friends told me: 'Almost every industry is screwed right now. We don't see a true growth industry anywhere.' But cannabis is a growth industry."
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver, which prosecuted Koenig, he meant this last line literally.
The plea agreement in the case stipulates that Koenig was observed mailing packages on four separate occasions: October 5, 2015; November 17, 2015; December 16, 2015; and January 6, 2016. On each occasion, warrants were obtained to search the parcels, and investigators discovered between 950 grams and 1.6 kilograms of marijuana.
On January 13, 2016, postal inspectors used a search warrant to enter Koenig's residence. There they found 123 mature marijuana plants, which translated to 18,672 grams of cannabis.
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All of these incidents took place during the tenure of President Barack Obama, whose attorney generals tended not to be nearly as gung ho about cracking down on marijuana as is Sessions. And indeed, court records show that Koenig wasn't indicted until May 10, 2017, after the election of President Donald Trump, who chose Sessions as his AG.
Koenig entered a guilty plea to the charges against him last October, and he was sentenced in late January to one year and a day in federal prison for possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute.
In a statement, Dana Carter, the inspector in charge of the U.S. Post Inspection Service's Denver Division, said, "U.S. Postal Inspectors continue to aggressively target individuals who use the postal service to distribute controlled substances. Our efforts to protect the nation’s mail, and postal customers, from illegal drug shipments are highlighted in cases such as these, where repeat offenders are sent to federal prison."
That's a message prosecutors no doubt hope will resonate with any Coloradan thinking about popping some pot into the mail.