Sure, you’re aware of your state laws, but what are your rights as a recreational or medical marijuana consumer when traveling? Unfortunately, the complexities and ‘gray area’ of cannabis law are only amplified.
Federal law governs airplane travel, and because marijuana is illegal under federal law, so is flying with pot even if you’re traveling from one legal state to another. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) efforts are focused on potential threats to aviation and passengers, so security officials scanning your bags are not on the lookout for marijuana or other illegal drugs. But, if they do discover marijuana, local law enforcement will be notified.
What happens next depends on which state you’re in. Certain airports like LAX in California and O’Hare in Chicago publicly announced that they will not prosecute travelers possessing less than an ounce of cannabis, while non-legal states may charge a traveler with a misdemeanor or felony drug charge.
Medical marijuana patients don’t receive special treatment from TSA, but may from local officials depending on the state. Keep your medical recommendation or I.D. card on you while traveling, if you chose to take a risk and travel with marijuana.
Official notices about cannabis from the airport websites:
Denver International Airport
At one point, the airport allowed possession of one ounce or less. But, as of 2021, the city’s website states that DIA prohibits the possession, use, display, and transfer of all marijuana on its property. Under Amendment 64, the city and county governments have established this policy and restriction to combat illegal interstate transportation of cannabis. Those caught with marijuana could face a fine of up to $999, though recreational adult-use and purchase is legal in the state.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
Officials DFW are notoriously known for the arrest and prosecution of a 71-year-old grandmother carrying CBD in May 2019. Penalties for cannabis consumption in Texas remain some of the harshest in the US. The drug is not decriminalized and local authorities are quick to arrest and charge travelers found with marijuana.
Dulles International Airport
Travelers caught with marijuana flower or products at Dulles airport can receive up to $500 in civil fines.
McCarran International Airport
The message is clear on the airport’s website: Pursuant to Clark County Code 20.04.090, it is unlawful to possess or advertise Marijuana/Cannabis/THC on Clark County Department of Aviation (DOA) owned property. Penalties include but are not limited to prosecution, arrest, civil and/or criminal fines, or a combination thereof.
San Francisco International Airport
The airport follows guidelines police use within the city of SF. Card-holding medical marijuana patients are permitted to carry up to 8 ounces of dried cannabis when traveling.
John F. Kennedy International Airport
Small amounts of marijuana are decriminalized in the big apple, so local authorities at JFK may allow you to continue on your way after seizing your stash.
Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Be prepared to spend the night at Clayton County Jail if you’re caught with marijuana at the Atlanta airport. Travelers charged with trafficking (possessing large amounts of marijuana) will be denied bond.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
It is legal to have fewer than 40 grams of marijuana in your checked bag or carry-on bag when you arrive at Sea-Tac. Keep in mind, regulations change when you land at your destination.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport
Possessing even small amounts of personal marijuana can result in being charged with a drug crime. Possession with intent to distribute becomes trafficking charges when in possession of 10 pounds or more, and the severity of charges increases over 4 levels.
Can I take marijuana across state lines?
When you cross state lines, you fall within the jurisdiction of the federal government—even if cannabis is legal in both states. Because the federal government views cannabis as a Schedule I drug, transporting the federally restricted substance is alike to transporting heroin or LSD.
But, how likely is it that you’ll run into a DEA agent at the state border? Slim to none. A more feasible scenario is receiving additional aggravated charges if arrested in a state that doesn’t permit possession of marijuana. Charges will vary based on the amount of marijuana possessed, but any federal charge will come with a felony drug charge.
Are the rules the same/different for medical marijuana?
Registered patients cannot travel between states with medical marijuana, even if their departure and arrival state honors their patient status. Technically, all MMJ patients everywhere are violating federal law when possessing medical marijuana. And, the federal government can prosecute those who cross state lines with a drug crime. Just as with consumers, the probability of arrest at state lines is slim, but the penalties can be severe—to the tune of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for a first offense.
If you are caught possessing marijuana at the airport and TSA officers pass you on to local authorities from the state where you are registered as a patient, you may receive leniency, but that is on a case-by-case basis.
Travel tips for patients
- Always keep a valid doctor’s recommendation or patient ID card on your person.
- Put a copy of the recommendation and ID in any checked luggage that contains marijuana products.
- Know the state laws of where you’re traveling.
- Begin recording on your phone if stopped by police or government authorities.
- Keep a lawyer’s contact logged in your phone.
The risk of travel and the likelihood of getting caught increases immensely when crossing borders between countries. Traveling across country borders with marijuana is highly discouraged. Border Patrol and Customs checkpoints almost always include a search. If marijuana is found, you will likely face a drug trafficking charge.
What if I accidentally bring marijuana to the airport?
Airports like the O’Hare Airport in Chicago offer cannabis amnesty boxes for departing travelers. Here, you can deposit marijuana products safely before passing through security and boarding your flight. If your airport doesn’t offer the boxes, you can always throw it in the trash.
Can I travel with CBD?
Because CBD is legal on a federal level, you can travel with CBD products that are either FDA approved or contain no more than .3 percent THC.
Until marijuana is legalized on a federal level, there is always a risk in travel. Ultimately, the choice is yours.