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Hemp, Cannabis, and the United States Postal Service

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Written by Alexandra Hicks
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During the middle of last year, the United States Postal Service (USPS) updated its “Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail” policy to include new standards for mailing cannabis and hemp-based products, following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

It’s one of the best and most reliable ways to ship products, but many people still aren’t sure if shipping hemp and cannabis is legal, and quite frankly, it makes some business owners nervous. Luckily, the USPS has updated its long-standing policies against hemp and cannabis products, and since June 2019, they will gladly ship these products across the U.S. (and internationally in some cases) as long as the proper paperwork is included.

According to their website, “Over the past several months, the Postal Service has received numerous inquiries from commercial entities and individuals wishing to use the mail to transport cannabidiol (CBD) oil and various other products derived from the cannabis plant.”

“In response,” the memo continued, “The Postal Service recently circulated an internal policy outlining specific acceptance criteria for CBD and cannabis-based products. In order to provide more clarity for mailers, the Postal Service is now issuing external guidelines, which clarify the circumstances under which hemp and hemp-based products can be mailed in domestic mail.”

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Hemp vs. Cannabis

Although these plants both come from the plant species, there hare some significant difference between hemp and cannabis. Hemp, on the other hand, is classified as having less than 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydocannabinol) content and often used for more industrial purposes. Some hemp plants grow flowers similar to cannabis, but they contain only trace amounts of THC and no other psychoactive compounds. Most hemp plants are CBD-dominant, although an increasingly popular alternative is CBG-dominant buds.

Cannabis flowers, on the other hand, have all the cannabinoids including THC, and is what you will often what you’d find in a medical cannabis dispensaries and recreational stores. Because they have THC, they do produce psychoactive effects and thus, are illegal. The intensity of these effects varies based on how much is consumed, the THC content in the strain that’s being used, and individual tolerance levels.

What You Need to Know About Shipping Hemp and Cannabis

So let’s take a look at some of these guidelines. First and foremost, any business that wants to ship hemp and cannabis products through the USPS must have a license from their respective state’s Department of Agriculture. Second, any product shipped must have less than 0.3 percent THC, and there needs to be correct paperwork included to verify the cannabinoid content.

It’s up to the individual company or business owner to make sure they’re complying with all the laws and regulations that govern U.S. mail. If these rules aren’t followed, the USPS can seize your shipment. It’s also a federal crime to mail illegal products, so criminal prosecution is also a possibility.

According to Lex Pelger, director of education at cannabis-production company CV Sciences, this move by USPS is on par with the normalization of the hemp and cannabis industries. As these plants and the products manufactured with their compounds become increasingly mainstream, government entities have to find ways to compromise and adapt.

“I think this is a big deal,” Pelger said in an interview with Cannabis Business Times. “That’s really important, to have these kinds of clarifications, to have the USPS say, ‘This is completely legal.’ It does matter, and you see other agencies following suit in their various departments.”

A Closer Look at the Text

These updates to mailable products cover everything from oil to topicals, and even smokable flowers, granted all these products fall into the guidelines listed above. More specifically, this is what the USPS has to say about shipping hemp and cannabis products:

“Hemp and hemp-based products, including cannabidiol (CBD) with the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of such hemp (or its derivatives) not exceeding a 0.3 percent limit are permitted to be mailed only when:

  • The mailer complies with all applicable federal, state, and local laws (such as the Agricultural Act of 2014 and the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018) pertaining to hemp production, processing, distribution, and sales; and
  • The mailer retains records establishing compliance with such laws, including laboratory test results, licenses, or compliance reports, for no less than 2 years after the date of mailing.”

Government Agencies Adopting New Policies

Also last year, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), changed its policies and now allows travelers to fly with certain types of cannabis and hemp-based products. Keep in mind though, you always want to present your item at the security gate to make sure everything is on the level, but now let’s get back to the topic at hand.

“Because they’re such a normalized product and they just simply look like another plant extract, in general, it doesn’t seem like it’s raising red flags,” Pelger mentioned in regards to mailing CBD oil. “Often, I would suspect people don’t even know or care what’s in there. It doesn’t seem like they’re looking for it.”

But some people still aren’t convinced, and it’s not just companies and those doing the shipping that have worries, many consumers are fearful of having these types of products shipped to their homes.

“When I’m out on the road, I hear a lot of elderly folks, especially, being worried about this being shipped to their house, being worried about legality, being worried about their insurance companies,” Pelger said.

“To have a statement like this to let them rest easy … means there are going to be a lot more grandmothers or parents around the country who are finally going to feel safe enough to buy a hemp extract online and have it shipped to their house. And that could be a really important thing for their health.”

Facing Challenges

While this is obviously a good thing, there are still some issues arising for certain companies that will hopefully be addressed in the near future. “What the USPS actually said is kind of confusing and doesn’t quite make sense with how some of the industry works because for some companies, like ours,” says Pelger.

“We don’t have a license from any local department of agriculture because none of our hemp is grown in the United States. We’re using only Dutch hemp, and so we don’t need to deal with the USDA for growing hemp. So, we wouldn’t have a license from them, and it’s something that’s required,” he continued.

Another problem is that some of the states that have harsh regulations against cannabis and hemp products will often seize perfectly legal packages that come through their states. What should be a simple mishap once the lab results are reviewed usually ends up being a months long back-and-forth between the police department and the business owner who is trying to get their products back.

Final Thoughts

Despite the challenges with shipping hemp and cannabis, this USPS memo provides some much needed clarity where there has historically been no valuable information to go on. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, and if cannabis is legalized nationwide in the coming years, it will eliminate many of the issues that arise when shipping legal cannabinoid-based products.

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Alexandra is the managing editor at CBD Testers. She has always been interested in alternative and natural remedies, and the versatility of cannabis as a healing plant is something that greatly appeals to her. It's for this reason that she decided to work as a cannabis industry journalist and editor, to help spread accurate information about the benefits of this plant.

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