by Kimberly Tronic
With the legality of cannabis currently existing in a “gray area,” it can be confusing to keep up with the rules and regulations, especially when you’re traveling.
While cannabis is federally prohibited as a Schedule I controlled substance, most states in the U.S. have passed legislation to the contrary. The majority of states legalized cannabis for medical purposes, and many now allow recreational use. So, what does this mean when federal and state laws contradict one another? Can you legally purchase weed in a state like Colorado and fly with it to another cannabis-friendly state like California?
Here’s what you need to know.
First, Can You Bring Weed on a Plane?
Despite weed’s legal status in most states, the answer is no. Most airports are owned and operated by their corresponding cities or states, but federal law supersedes state law. Weed is still federally illegal, so it’s prohibited beyond airport security areas. Even if you legally bought your cannabis, it becomes illegal once you enter security. And no, having a medical marijuana card won’t help — TSA won’t discern between medical and recreational cannabis.
Will TSA Check for Weed?
The main concern for TSA agents is detecting threats to a plane and its passengers. Their screening priorities are more centered around explosives and weapons, not minor amounts of weed. However, local authorities and federal drug agents will be on the lookout for narcotics. And if TSA does find weed in your luggage, they are required to report any violations to local law enforcement.
What Happens if TSA Finds Weed in My Bags?
The consequences can vary, depending on the airport and the amount you’re carrying. In certain airports, like Los Angeles International Airport, you will not be arrested by local law enforcement for less than 28.5 grams. The Seattle-Tacoma Airport allows you to tote an amount up to Washington’s legal state limit. Other airports don’t take a clear stance — they offer no regulations allowing for a certain amount of cannabis but also have no prohibitions.
At the very least, if you’re caught with weed, it will likely be confiscated (or you may be forced to throw it in an amnesty box), but if your situation is turned over to local authorities, the outcome is up to their discretion.
Is There a Difference between Putting Weed in a Checked Bag vs. Carry-on?
Yes and no. Checked bags are more likely to be randomly opened and examined by TSA, who are permitted to investigate your bags when you’re not present. Carry-ons are less likely to get subjected to random searches, but if anything looks suspicious as your bag is X-rayed, an agent will certainly investigate its contents.
Flying with Flower vs. Edibles vs. Vapes
As organic compounds, flowers are probably the quickest way to get attention from TSA or local authorities. Agents are on the lookout for organic materials during the screening process, since those may be used in explosives.
Vapes are allowed in carry-on bags (though they are prohibited in checked bags), but tossing your vape into a carry-on may still result in a TSA search, especially if there is flower or oil inside. TSA agents can easily spot a vape during the X-ray process.
Edibles, on the other hand, are probably easiest to conceal, since they appear as normal snacks, but like any product, are illegal to bring on a plane if they contain more than 0.3 percent THC.
Does It Make a Difference If I’m Flying Domestic vs. International?
The international laws surrounding weed can vary, and therefore so do the ramifications, but it’s still illegal in many countries, and international punishments for possession could be even greater when going abroad. Regardless of your destination, cannabis on planes is technically still prohibited.
If you legally purchased weed, it may be tempting to try and fly with your stash, especially considering the difference between federal and state regulations. But it’s important to be educated about risks and to stay up to date on the constantly evolving laws surrounding weed.
Kimberly Tronic is an author, copywriter and content creator. She enjoys coffee, cleaning her apartment, cats and nibbling on pencils.