Here’s what you need to know if you ever think about traveling by plane with cannabis. If you're thinking of traveling with weed in your baggage, here is what you need to know. The laws are not as simple as you might think. Flying with cannabis seeds is illegal in the U.S., but seeds have been sold internationally via mail order for years, with Dutch and Spanish seed banks shipping to countries around the globe no matter what the laws say.
Flying With Weed: TSA Marijuana Rules Explained
As those with an affinity for marijuana – or pop culture aficionados – can tell you, April 20, or 4/20, might as well be a national holiday.
That’s the day cannabis lovers celebrate the legendary weed. Legend has it that the most plausible historical origin of 4/20 came from the 1970s, when a group of California teenage buddies met each day at 4:20 p.m. to smoke marijuana, with the ritual soon spreading from there and the time stamp simply evolving to 4/20.
Of course, what was taboo 50 years ago is more accepted today. Medical marijuana dispensaries are nationwide, and most states have relaxed their laws on how much recreational marijuana a person can have.
Ah, but can you fly with it? (And by fly we mean literally, on an airplane, not metaphorically.)
The short answer is, no. And, at the same time, sort of.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, “Marijuana and certain cannabis-infused products, including some Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, remain illegal under federal law except for products that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis or that are approved by FDA. (See the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115-334.) TSA officers are required to report any suspected violations of law to local, state or federal authorities.”
There’s your hard no. Marijuana is still illegal to fly with.
“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 if any illegal substance is discovered during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”
There’s your ‘sort of.’
It’s a risk you, as a passenger, will have to take. The TSA takes jurisdiction over airline policy when it comes to marijuana and will refer you to the proper authorities if they find it.
If they find it being the key phrase.
For instance, when the state of New York last year legalized the recreational possession of up to three ounces of cannabis, TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein admitted the strange dichotomy of the interpretation of the law. Farbstein said TSA officers aren’t looking for marijuana, but have a legal duty to report it if they find more than three ounces of the stuff.
“There has been no change in the way that TSA handles marijuana or other drugs that TSA officers come across when they are performing their security duties,” Farbstein told Gotham Magazine.
Benjamin Branham, a spokesman for the Port Authority, which operates John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York City, said:
“New Yorkers 21 years old and older can possess, obtain and transport up to three ounces of cannabis. Therefore, PAPD does not issue tickets, seize or arrest for this amount at New York airports.”
Another point to consider is where you are traveling to as a final destination. While society might be more accepting of limited marijuana use, only 18 states – less than half – have legalized cannabis for recreational use.
So while you might think you’ve dodged a bullet by getting your stash past the TSA checkpoint, you still might have to deal with state laws depending on where you arrive.
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Is It Legal to Take Marijuana on a Plane?
As far as marijuana is concerned, its legal status is confusing for many in the United States. The issue of bringing cannabis on an airplane is a perfect case in point. It is a federally illegal substance like heroin. Consequently, one would assume that carrying it onboard an aircraft is a prohibited act.
Conversely, you may think it is okay as long as you fly from one ‘legal’ marijuana state to another. Neither supposition is accurate as shades of gray continue to cause problems. This article outlines if you can or should bring cannabis on a plane.
Marijuana & Airplanes – The Law in General
Cities own airports. However, the federal government is authorized to operate them, and federal law supersedes state law. It doesn’t matter if you buy your marijuana legally. It becomes an illegal substance from the moment you show a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent your boarding pass.
Yet even then, the issue is far from cut and dried. The TSA is tasked with keeping planes and passengers secure. They are far more concerned about finding explosive devices than marijuana.
The TSA’s screening procedures mean detecting potential threats. As a result, they are not actively looking for drugs, so you could technically sneak through without a problem. However, the likely outcome is that a TSA agent will find the cannabis and hand you over to airport security.
The Amnesty Box
When an airport security agent gets involved, there are several possible outcomes. Airports such as Aspen-Pitkin County in Colorado or McCarran in Las Vegas, Nevada, have a special ‘amnesty’ box. Passengers can place their cannabis in this box and not face any legal consequences. This is primarily because recreational use is permitted in these states.
If you’re fortunate, a police officer might wave you through with the marijuana if you have a valid MMJ card. However, this is an infrequent occurrence. You are far more likely to meet a law enforcement official who takes a dim view of your actions. While local police may not press charges, the federal government could potentially get involved.
It is a felony to transport ‘for-sale’ weed outside a state according to most states’ laws. It is also a federally illegal act. If you are caught with a large amount, you could spend several years in prison. The majority of cases that end up in court are tried on a state level. This is better news for the defendant because it increases the chances of a favorable outcome.
What About the Legal Marijuana States?
Don’t assume that taking cannabis from one recreationally legal state to another (Colorado to California, for example) is permissible. If a TSA agent finds marijuana or another illegal substance during security screening, the default policy is to contact law enforcement. Your destination and location of origin are not taken into account. The response of the TSA to cannabis at the airport is consistent across the United States.
Don’t assume that taking cannabis from one recreationally legal state to another is permissible.
Will you be arrested in an airport in a recreational state? The answer is: “It depends.” Officials are lenient in certain airports, such as John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, for example. Therefore, airport police won’t charge you with a crime if you have a state legal amount. You won’t be allowed to bring it onboard, however.
The likely response depends on the airport rather than the state. At Denver International Airport, for example, marijuana is banned anywhere on airport property. It is a very different story at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
LAX Is Lenient Regarding Marijuana Possession
Cannabis has been legal for recreational use in California since January 1, 2018. On the same day, LAX updated its marijuana policy. According to the airport’s official website, Los Angeles Airport Police Division (LAPD) officers have no jurisdiction to arrest anyone in possession of marijuana. That is, as long as you carry it following state law.
At the time of writing, passengers at LAX are allowed to travel through security with up to 8 grams of concentrated marijuana and 28.5 grams of marijuana flower. The policy also applies to several other airports under APD jurisdiction.
Traveling with weed? Here’s al…
It doesn’t mean you can go through security openly carrying cannabis. A TSA agent can stop you and contact the police as per the usual protocols. The difference is that the APD will arrive and wave you through.
Also, you can be arrested for cannabis possession when you land. Alicia Hernandez, a public information officer for the APD, spoke to Rolling Stone magazine a few years ago. She said that the APD “doesn’t concern itself with other state laws or whether travelers will be violating them upon their arrival.” Therefore, please make sure you check marijuana laws at your destination before boarding the plane.
A Risky Business
For the most part, law enforcement is not concerned about passengers carrying small amounts of cannabis. Even so, it is very much a case of ‘carry at your own risk.’ If you need it for medical purposes, make sure you have your MMJ card and don’t attract unwanted attention. Make sure there are no liquids in your bag, and there’s a chance that your edibles will go unnoticed.
It is very much a case of ‘carry at your own risk.’
It is a bad idea to try and bring oils or tinctures on board. The mere fact that they are liquid immediately draws attention. Edibles are much harder to detect, especially if you make them yourself and package them like everyday food items. Edibles also have less of a smell. In contrast, you are more likely to get caught if you try to bring cannabis flower through.
If you are caught, don’t object, complain, or get angry with the TSA agent. There is no point trying to talk your way out of the situation. Make sure you display your MMJ card if you have it. There is no real defense for interstate transportation, so stay silent, and ask for an attorney if you get arrested.
Is It Legal to Take Weed on a Plane? Final Thoughts
The issue of whether or not you can bring cannabis on a plane is straightforward if you look at a strictly legal definition. Airports are under federal purview. Marijuana is a federally illegal substance. Therefore, you can’t legally bring marijuana through airport security.
Ask a Stoner: Can I Take Seeds and Hash Equipment Out of the Country?
Dear Stoner: I would like to buy some seeds and hash-making materials when I visit Denver this month from Brazil. What’s the best way to do that?
Dear Felipe: You can find both of those here with relative ease — check our online list for dispensaries that carry seeds — but it’s not worth the risk of taking any of it home. Depending on what type of hash-making materials you need (which can range from bubble bags and ice cubes to a closed-loop extraction system), you should be able to purchase them online, as virtually all such supplies can be used for reasons other than cannabis extraction. Just do that instead.
Flying with cannabis seeds is illegal in the U.S., but seeds have been sold internationally via mail order for years, with Dutch and Spanish seed banks shipping to countries around the globe no matter what the laws say. Those seeds aren’t always females, however, and I’ve heard reports of varying luck with the genetic and growing results. My suggestion would be to either buy the seeds here and ship them home, or order them online to be delivered to to your door. or a friend’s, if you’re scared.
Send questions to [email protected]
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