The rules regarding marijuana have been rapidly evolving so it can be confusing to understand the restrictions on flying with what may be a legal amount of weed from where you are leaving from.
If you would have asked, “Can you fly with pot?” to a group of friends I once booked a trip with, the answer to the question would have been “Of course you can, we just did!” I should have known when the first place we stopped after leaving the airport was somewhere to buy rolling papers but I was naive and when I walked into their hotel room they said I should leave because, I “have a real job.” I’m so glad I had friends who had my best interests in mind while they got high in the hotel room that I booked for them under my name.
As it turns out, if we took that trip today instead of twenty years ago, the circumstances might have been different, depending on where we were leaving from and where we were going.
Please know that I am no expert on flying in the United States with marijuana or any CBD products. Don’t take my article as legal advice and definitely do your own research before deciding if your activities are legal under state and federal law.
There are now 10 states where recreational marijuana usage is now legal:
- Washington D.C.
Even more states, 33 in total, have allowed the use of marijuana for medicinal uses. That’s in addition to the entire country of Canada, which legalized the recreational use of cannabis in 2018.
However, the U.S. Federal Government still views cannabis as an illegal substance. So if you want to go on vacation and bring your weed with you, what’s the rules?
Let’s look at the easiest rule to follow. While marijuana is legal in Canada, if you are traveling to or from Canada:
Illegal to cross Canadian borders
But it’s important to remember that it will remain illegal to travel across the border and internationally with cannabis (marijuana) in your possession. The Canadian Border and Services Agency recommends that you don’t bring it in, don’t take it out.
The “Don’t bring it in, don’t take it out” slogan is so Canadian it should be served with a side of maple syrup.
Flying within the United States is a different situation since each state, along with the U.S. Federal government, has different laws in regards to ganga possession.
The only statement the TSA has on their website is in reference to marijuana for medicinal use, which is legal in some form or another in 33 states. Here’s what the TSA has to say on the matter:
Possession of marijuana and cannabis infused products, such as Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, is illegal under federal law. TSA officers are required to report any suspected violations of law, including possession of marijuana and cannabis infused products. TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but in the event a substance that appears to be marijuana or a cannabis infused product is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.
So while the possession of Mary Jane or CBD products is illegal under federal law, that’s not what the TSA is really concerned about. Apparently, people who just want to get high aren’t a huge risk to the rest of the traveling public in the eyes of the TSA. If you’re turned over to a law enforcement officer in the state where you are legally allowed to have medicinal marijuana, there’s not much else they can do to you.
So what if your usage isn’t for medicinal reasons and you need to fly from LAX to SFO for the weekend?
We already know that the TSA isn’t concerned with anything not related to the safety of the aircraft but they will turn you over to local law enforcement if you’re in possession of a federally illegal substance. Fortunately LAX clarifies their position right on their official website:
As of January 1, 2018, California law allows for individuals 21 years of age or older to possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana for personal consumption. With the change in state law, the policy and procedures of the Los Angeles Airport Police Division (APD) regarding marijuana were updated to reflect this change. APD officers, who are California Peace Officers, have no jurisdiction to arrest individuals if they are complying with state law. However, airport guests should be aware that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening stations are under federal jurisdiction. Also, passengers should be aware that marijuana laws vary state by state and they are encouraged to check the laws of the states in which they plan to travel.
Since all the TSA is going to do is hand you over to local authorities and the LAX police aren’t going to do anything as long as you are in possession of a legal amount of grass….
Massachusetts feels the same way as California as indicated in this article in the Boston Globe in which no one seems to want to give a straight answer but everyone seems to say it’s OK as long as it’s not.
Not all states feel the same about flying with reefer though, even if their state laws allow it for recreational use.
Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana usage, still does not officially allow possession on airport property. Passengers at Denver airport are asked to dispose of their stash before arriving at the airport and if police discover any legal amounts on airport grounds, they ask flyers to return the items to their home or they are confiscated without criminal penalty.
Las Vegas has even stricter laws at their airport where, since 2017, you will be cited for possession of a legal amount in the airport and arrested if you have more than the legal amount. To prevent any problems, they have installed “amnesty boxes” outside the airport to dispose of any items you forgot about before getting to the airport. Sort of like getting rid of any water bottles before going through the TSA checkpoint.
As long as we are a nation of states, navigating the laws about marijuana usage and travel between states will always be tricky business. While any cannabis containing substance is still illegal under federal law, the only federal agency you’ll run into at the airport is the TSA and they are way more concerned about the water bottle or munchies in your carry on bag than the ziplock baggie full of weed. The most they can do is turn you over to local law enforcement, which, depending on where you are leaving from, can lead to anything from nothing but a minor inconvenience up to and including your arrest.
As a reminder, regardless of where you are flying from, you shouldn’t get high before going to the airport. If you’re determined to be unfit to fly, airport agents can deny you boarding at their discretion (but I think the biggest concern if you get too high before getting to the airport would be simply missing your flight because you were watching the airport TV station while eating a Cinnabon).
The only thing I can say is you need to know where you are flying from and where you are flying to. If your departure state has a policy like California, Washington or Alaska and you are flying to somewhere with similar laws about recreational possession, you SHOULD be fine. However, if you’re visiting one of the many states that have less lenient laws, it might be a better idea to leave your pot at home, even if it is 4/20.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary