BOSTON (CBS) -- In the same year Massachusetts pot shops first opened their doors to customers for recreational use, WBZ's I-Team finds local post offices set a record for stopping bundles of marijuana.
"You can't ship it," says US Postal Service spokesperson Stephen Doherty. "It's still illegal under the Federal Controlled Substances Act…people have to be aware of that."
Records obtained by the I-Team show in 2018, Massachusetts postal inspectors confiscated 434 marijuana packages through the end of November. That's more than triple the rate when pot first became legal in the state.
It's a statistic that has some marijuana advocates alarmed. "It's very concerning that there's still a focus on cannabis, just because we know that the focus includes money, it includes time, and resources," said Stephen Mandile, who runs a group called Veterans Alternative Healing. He's an Army veteran who suffered serious spinal cord and brain injuries during an Iraq deployment. It led to a decade-long opioid and benzodiazepine addiction.
Mandile showed the I-Team drugs he legally ordered through the mail, including Fentanyl patches, morphine, and oxycodone. Even though he says it was marijuana that helped him kick the opioids, the federal government classifies cannabis as a more serious drug with "no accepted medical use" and a "high potential for abuse". For those reasons, it's illegal to send marijuana through the mail. "It really hurts the patient that has mobility issues," said Mandile.
The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency stands by its policy of intercepting packages of pot. "It's against federal law, and our job is to just follow that law," said Special Agent Jon DeLena. "We're always focusing on the largest scale drug trafficking organizations that we can identify."
But records show at least 55 of the packages seized with marijuana in the last year contained less than an ounce. In one case, the amount weighed less than a penny. While DeLena stresses that the DEA's real focus is on the more urgent opioid crisis, records show only two percent of confiscated packages contained opioids.
According to DeLena, there is a reason. "Here in New England, sadly, we know that fentanyl is readily available. So we don't have a lot of cases where people are going online and ordering packages through the mail."
As for the high rate of marijuana grabs, postal inspectors have no plans to slow down. "They're looking for where the stuff is coming from, and where it is it's going to," said Doherty.
The punishment for sending or receiving marijuana through the mail can be stiff. It is a felony that carries as many as five years behind bars. It gets more serious in cases involving larger amounts and second offenses.
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