Can You Fly The Friendly Skies With Weed?

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Jay Brockman
There's an interesting article on making its way around the internets today. It quotes from the website for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which states that its officers "do not search for marijuana or other drugs."

While TSA also states that if officers happen to find any pot in someone's baggage, they will refer to matter to law enforcement, what if the pot is discovered in a state where it happens to be legal to possess marijuana for medical or recreational purposes?

Here's what the article states:

Although it's a try-it-at-your-own-risk scenario, airplane passengers in certain situations are being permitted to carry marijuana on board, even if TSA agents sniff out the drugs. It's never technically altogether legal to fly on commercial airlines with weed because the airports all fall under federal jurisdiction, and marijuana is still illegal under federal law. However, TSA policy and anecdotal reports suggest that passengers who travel between states in which they can legally use pot are likely to be allowed to fly. So if the passenger has authorization to use medical marijuana, or if he or she is flying between Washington and Colorado, where possession of the drug even for recreational purposes has been legalized, local law enforcement isn't going to intervene.

Here's how prominent medical marijuana defense attorney Christopher Glew answered the question posed by the headline of this post in a "Better Call Glew" column that ran back in Feb. 2012 (it's safe to say his advice is just as good now as it was then:

I encourage any medical marijuana patient who is traveling to contact an attorney in each state for a briefing before commencing travel. This question keeps popping up in various ways as patients are traveling between states with medical marijuana exemptions. The most important thing for you to understand is that federal law strictly prohibits the possession, transportation, distribution and cultivation of marijuana. The federal government has created no exemption for medical users in any state. The bottom line is you are breaking federal law and risk being arrested and subjected to prosecution and forfeiture proceedings by engaging in any of these activities. The reason I am focusing on federal law in answering your question is that all commercial flights fall under federal jurisdiction. Therefore, any transportation of marijuana, medical or not, by aircraft can and will be handled by federal law enforcement. It is very likely that any detection by law enforcement could result in a minimum of a substantial delay and at worst a federal case. Remember that all those friendly folks that make you undress when you enter the screening area at the airport are Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees. The TSA is a federal agency and their officers are charged with enforcing federal law. Please heed this warning because I would hate to see a great vacation plan turn into a travel nightmare.

As I recount in my recently-published book, The Weed Runners: Travels with the Outlaw Capitalists of America's Medical Marijuana Trade, I flew from Long Beach to Oakland with the book's main character, who was carrying at least two ounces of weed. He claimed that he'd cleared the load with both TSA and the airline beforehand, and even though I could smell the stuff in his carry-on, nobody hassled him at security or elsewhere.

Despite the TSA's stated policy, even if you are a legitimate medical marijuana patient, you can still be arrested if you bring weed on an airplane. For now at least, it's just one more reason why the federal ban on marijuana must end.

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paullucas714 topcommenter

I ran into this situation in 2010 at the Sacramento Airport. While sitting in the airport food court, a Sacramento Police detail of about  officers walking through with a dog that sniffed my bag asked me about the hit, Dog alert) that their dog did at my bag. I had a pan of brownies that I had gotten at a dispensary in Sac the day before when I was visiting my sister in Sac.

They were sort of vexed on the brownies and decided to ignore them anyway. I ase about the idea of transporting my medicine while Im flying to and from Long Beach and sac. The officer basically told me that its a jurisdictional issue

She explained (probably with best information at the time) that the Airport and passenger cabin are Federal Jurisdiction. But the luggage are aof the plane is still a state issue as it only passes through the baggage check in, and straight into the plane without going through a Federally controlled area in the airport (these areas are individually operated by airlines and their baggage handlers).

In short, checked baggage is tantamount to carrying luggage in the truck of your car if you are driving from Sac to Long Beach. ( I assume the same would be for travel between CA and Colorado as well). So by staying within State of CA jurisdiction, or intra-MMJ state jurisdiction, there should not be a question about your transport of cannabis assuming you are not outside of quantity limits in both states).

That's what I was told by the Supervising Sacramento Police officer at Sacramento airport.

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