How do you stop people from mailing weed illegally? Local law enforcement is trying to figure it out

Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-05 18:26:14-05

CINCINNATI — Ricky Lee Harris Germany delivered mail. He drove city U.S. Post Office Route 7 in Columbus for five years.

Then, a lunch habit bit him.

In September of 2018, an anonymous tip to U.S Postal Inspectors claimed Germany stole over 100 pounds of weed out of the mail over a six month period.

The unidentified person, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court, said Germany spent lunch breaks checking large parcels, mostly from California, for drugs. If he found marijuana or methamphetamine, Germany took them home, where a contact allegedly took the drugs to sell and split money with Germany.

Germany told postal inspectors his primary parcel target was marijuana.

He pled guilty in September 2019 to possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.

The WCPO 9 I-Team examined court records that show police agencies seize varying quantities of marijuana products shipped to the Tri-State nearly every month.

In 2012, former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson pled guilty after accepting a two-pound shipment of marijuana at his Kentucky home.

But that is old-school.

“Vaping is huge in the United States right now,” said E.R. Beach, owner of Hemptations. He has stores in Northside, O’Bryonville and Sharonville that sell CBD and hemp products. “It’s a new trend in cannabis, period. You can go out in public with them and no one knows. It’s a lot easier to hide your consumption with a THC vape cartridge.”

Vape oil, whether it's used with THC or nicotine, is flavored and, when heated, the vapor and smell is no different than other vape products, Beach and law enforcement officers said.

Beach sells hemp clothes, paper, plastic and food in his stores. He does not receive marijuana through the mail. But, when you work 25 years in his industry, you hear things, Beach said.

“Our medical marijuana program charges almost $500 (an ounce) for medicine, where you can get it shipped from Colorado probably for $250 a (ounce),” he said.

The Postal Service said in a statement it has “no interest in being the unwitting accomplice” to anyone distributing illegal drugs or paraphernalia in the mail. Inspectors, though, admit to seizing thousands of drug shipments and have a standing $50,000 reward for information about drugs or drug payments going through the mail.

“Our objectives are to rid the mail of illicit drug trafficking and the associated violence, preserve the integrity of the mail, and, most importantly, provide a safe environment for postal employees and Postal Service customers – the American public,” Kathryn Woliung, U.S. postal inspector and team leader public information officer said in a statement.

Kilos of THC vape cartridges seized

Last October, the Butler County Regional Narcotics Task Force intercepted a shipment of 952 vape cartridges, seven pounds of marijuana and THC disguised as lip balm, tootsie rolls, cannabis syrup and gummies packaged in birthday gift wrapping paper.

Records of executed search warrants made public show postal inspectors seized more than 38 kilograms of THC vape cartridges that same month in Milford. The package came from Montebello, California, through Priority Mail.

That same day, postal inspectors caught a priority mail shipment from Laguna Hills, California, to Oxford. It contained 1.5 kilos of THC vape cartridges and brown wax suspected to be THC wax.

A third seizure that found almost 24 kilos of THC vape cartridges was sent priority mail from La Mesa, California, to Hamilton.

“I really didn’t see them except for the last year or two,” Chris Coners, director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force, said. “Now, we’re seeing them in the thousands. We’re seizing thousands of them.”

Coners said marijuana seizures in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties are smaller than the 300- to 500-pound hauls cops used to get in the '90s.

What they seize now, though, is three times more expensive, he said. With THC potency near 80 percent in everything they seize, Coners thinks he knows the source.

“Nowadays we are receiving marijuana in this area that comes from those states, predominantly in the west: California, Washington, Oregon (and) Colorado,” Coners said. Recreational marijuana is legal in those states, plus eight others.

Leftovers lawsuit

The WCPO 9 I-Team asked for harvest and inventory data from the four states Coners named.

An email from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board claims it does not “not have any way to answer” our questions.

A spokesperson for the California Cannabis Control Board first said “the state does not track that data.” Then, the California Department of Food and Agriculture told us “all of that data is confidential.”

Oregon and Colorado post numbers online.

In 2017, Colorado reported 26 percent of legally grown marijuana flower and buds went unsold. A year later, the figure rose to 29 percent. The state had only partial stats for 2019.

Oregon’s February inventory had 1.3 million pounds of useable, edible and marijuana concentrate. That is double what growers sold in the previous 12 months.

Growers in that state are supposed to destroy leftovers. So the onus is on police to prove any part of legal crops illegally land in the Tri-State.

“We do interviews,” Coners said. “We use other resources to determine the source of whatever we seized. Not always, but we often do find out where it originates whether or not we can put a case on those locations or people. The truth is a lot of it does get through, obviously.”

The National Police Foundation claims marijuana overproduction “has created issues for bordering states.”

In 2014, Oklahoma and Nebraska sued Colorado. The two states claimed flows of black market marijuana from Colorado “undermined their drug bans, drained treasuries and stressed criminal justice systems.”

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear that lawsuit.

What’s next?

Whatever rules or laws Kentucky passes, Coners’ team will enforce them, he said. He is also certain that drug smugglers will still try to deal by car, plane, train or parcel.

“The challenge hasn’t changed,” Coners said. “They’re trying not to get caught and our job is to figure out who is legally involved.”

Postal Inspector Statement by Hillary Lake on Scribd

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