This past September, LAX posted a statement officially permitting passengers to travel with small amounts of recreational-use marijuana in their carry-on bags. This news now has some travelers asking – can I travel with my weed? And it has others wondering whether they can travel with their prescriptions (cannabis oils and edibles, for example, are often prescribed by M.D.’s for chronic pain, many cancers and epilepsy). In the past, travelers would have had those items confiscated by the TSA. What do you need to know now? Well, it’s a fairly muddy legal area. Let’s try to shed a little light where we can.
What’s legal in the airport?
Well, it all depends. The TSA (our federally-run security detail, tasked with getting you and your bags safely to your final destination) has a strict no-weed policy. Remember, they’re going to enforce the federal laws, not the state laws. So, the TSA is on the record as saying that they will alert local authorities when and if they find cannabis-based products in your carry-on baggage.
In a town like Los Angeles, where personal-use is okay, the agents are likely as not to “overlook” small amounts of marijuana. But if they do run into it while doing a routine bag search, they’re within their rights to let local authorities know. The local authorities at LAX will not fine you or confiscate as long as the amounts you’re carrying are legal for personal use.
So once you’ve cleared security, you’re free and clear, right? Well, not exactly. If you’re traveling to another jurisdiction with lenient cannabis laws (10 states and the District of Columbia fall into this category), you’re probably going to cruise right through and not run into any trouble. If you’re carrying a medical marijuana card and a prescription, you’ll need to do a little research. Most states have policies allowing medical use under certain circumstances. Do your homework, and make sure your card qualifies you for use in that state.
What’s legal on board the plane?
Ah. The question of air space is a bit of a conundrum. Though your gateway city may allow you to board with marijuana in your carry-on, and though you might be traveling to a state where you’re legally clear – what about the skies in between? Well, that’s where things can get really sticky. Technically, all airspace over the U.S. is federal space – which is a bit of a grey area for folks carrying cannabis products domestically. Since smoking of all kinds has been banned from commercial aircraft since the late 1990’s, as long as you don’t decide to flout that law you’re probably not going to need to worry about it.
Some airlines themselves have “no pot” policies, which gives the flight crew the right to confiscate any cannabis products they find on your person.
If you find you’re carrying your personal use marijuana to an airport that does not have a lenient carry-on policy, check to see if they have an “amnesty box” program. In some airports (McCarren in Las Vegas and Colorado Springs are two that come to mind), you’ll see strategically placed green bins (they look a lot like mini mailboxes) where you can discard substances you decide to remove from bags.
Tread Very Carefully on International Trips
Finally, this post should only be referenced for domestic flights within the United States. The rest of the world is a mish mash of laws—every country has different rules and regulations for cannabis. Some countries make no distinction between marijuana and cocaine or heroin. The penalties for traveling with marijuana can be life-changing and devastating.
One more thing. Check the news before you fly. The laws and rules are ever-changing. The next flight you take might find you in a different legal situation. The trend certainly seems to be going in a more lenient legal direction, but it’s always best to stay abreast of new developments. If you have any questions you can always call the TSA (866) 289-9673 or tweet them at @AskTSA. If you have other questions about permitted medications on flights, check out our post on the subject.