Cannabis lawyers share how things really work.
Buds, oils, tea, brownies, cookies, gummies, lollipops ― today, you can get THC in just about any form.
What a time to be alive.
Marijuana is legal in some capacity in 29 states and Washington, D.C. As long as you adhere to local laws, you don’t have to worry about the cops harshing your buzz. That is, unless you’re headed to the airport.
The rules surrounding domestic air travel and marijuana possession can seem confusing and contradictory. For example, if you bought weed legally in Colorado, can you take your leftovers home to another legal state like California? The answer might surprise you.
We talked to several experts in Los Angeles ― one of the largest weed-friendly U.S. cities and home to one of the busiest airports in the world ― about what you should know before attempting to fly with legally purchased marijuana.
The tangle of laws is “total chaos.”
On the federal level, marijuana is considered a controlled substance, just like cocaine or heroin. So even if marijuana is legalized in your state, it’s still technically illegal in the eyes of Uncle Sam.
And though airports are owned by the city, “the feds are authorized to operate it … so federal law prevails,” said criminal defense attorney Jonathan Mandel. “Once you enter security, federal law trumps state law.”
That means even if you purchased your weed legally, it becomes illegal as soon as you flash your boarding pass to a Transportation Security Administration agent.
“It is total chaos in terms of congruence between federal law and state law,” said Irán Hopkins, an attorney in the cannabis industry group at the national law firm Akerman. Not only are federal and state laws contradictory, she said, but rules surrounding the possession and use of marijuana vary across states and even airports.
But will you actually get in trouble?
The TSA’s primary job is to make sure another 9/11 never happens. Agents are more concerned about whether there’s a bomb in your shoe than a little weed in your bag.
“TSA’s focus is on terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers,” said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers in a statement to HuffPost. “TSA’s screening procedures, which are governed by federal law, are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers.”
In other words, they’re not looking for drugs. That’s the job of local law enforcement and federal drug agents. You’re likely to cause more of an uproar with the TSA by leaving a water bottle in your backpack.
That said, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.
“As has always been the case, if during the security screening process a TSA officer discovers an item that may violate the law, TSA refers the matter to law enforcement,” Dankers said. According to the TSA website, illegal items include marijuana and cannabis-infused products such as CBD oil.
Nor does the TSA take into account your originating and destination airports, Dankers added. So if you run into a particularly grouchy TSA agent or attempt to get through security with an egregious amount of weed, you will likely be handed over to airport police no matter where you’re coming from or going.
According to Dankers, however, what happens next is up to local law enforcement’s discretion.
When you get busted…
Once the police are involved, there are a number of possible outcomes. In some airports, such as McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas or Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in Colorado, where recreational use is legal, you might be asked to dump your marijuana in an “amnesty box” or simply toss it in the trash, according to Mandel.