THERE'S A RIGHT most pot smokers cherish with particular fervor—not the right to party, but the right to privacy. And when a Portland FedEx employee opened a package destined for New York, Robert Stinnett's privacy went out the window, he says.
Stinnett wanted to send a package to upstate New York overnight, then changed his mind when he saw the cost. So he decided to send it with two-day delivery, for $55.21. That's when the employee at FedEx became suspicious. Why would Stinnett spend so much to send something that he stated was valued at only $100? So after Stinnett left, the employee opened up Stinnett's package and found five ounces of marijuana—worth around $1,500. The employee tipped off the police, who arrested Stinnett on delivery charges.
If a customer's personal spending decisions are raising red flags, what's to stop an employee from opening any package valued under $100, wonders Spencer Hahn, Stinnett's lawyer. At the very least, the employee could have let Stinnett know they were going to look through the package, Hahn says. Instead, they waited until he had paid them and left before opening it. Hahn says the practice would make him very nervous if he were a FedEx lawyer.
"Rather than trying to avoid something illegal, they took his money, rifled through his belongings, and called the police on him," Hahn says. "There's no telling how many packages they have opened."
FedEx spokesman Jim McCluskey says FedEx has a "very involved and extensive training program" for its employees to spot suspicious packages, but repeatedly declined to go into detail about what FedEx looks for, or how many packages get opened.
"We have the right to open any package that we deem to be suspicious," McCluskey says. "We don't tolerate the illegal use of our system."
While FedEx remains mum on its search practices, the United States Postal Service (USPS) relies on a mix of training, official procedure, and honesty. Ron Anderson, a USPS customer relations coordinator here in Portland, says customers are asked a series of questions that help postal workers get a general idea of whether or not a package is dangerous or illegal. If it's shipped standard mail, a postal worker can open a suspicious package. But if the customer is sending the package first class, priority, or express, postal workers must call a postal investigator to check out the package.
Of course, the FedEx employee's suspicions were proven correct when he found pot in the packaging. Doesn't matter, says Hahn. "It doesn't justify the invasion of privacy."