It's almost 4/20: Here are all the rules around flying with marijuana
It's almost April 20, and weed has been legalized for recreational purposes in 21 states. Currently, 38 states (plus Washington, D.C., and three territories) allow marijuana possession for medical purposes.
Additionally, 13 states have marijuana legislation on the election docket this year.
Although these states have implemented legislation for their residents and visitors, marijuana still remains a federal offense as an illegal controlled substance, punishable by one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
This makes navigating the rules confusing when traveling from a state where marijuana is legally allowed to one where it's not.
Here's what you need to know about flying with weed, medical and otherwise.
Can you fly with weed?
Aligning with federal law, U.S. Customs and Border Protection still explicitly prohibits the importation of any amount of marijuana when entering the U.S. via a land border, such as by car.
“As some states have decriminalized the use and possession of marijuana it is important that members of the traveling public clearly understand that federal law still prohibits the importation of any amount of this drug,” CBP El Paso Director of Field Operations Hector Mancha said in a statement. “Do not cross the border with any amount of marijuana at all.”
However, when traveling domestically to pot-friendly states, the TSA allows products containing up to 0.3% or less of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
"TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers," per the TSA. "Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but if any illegal substance is discovered during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer."
Should the TSA refer you to local police, discretion is ultimately up to local governing bodies, who may or may not pursue action given their laws.
Some airports, including Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD), even provide travelers with cannabis amnesty boxes to toss their weed before going through security checkpoints.
Others, including Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), release any jurisdiction to arrest individuals if complying with state marijuana laws.
"[Los Angeles Airport Police Division] officers, who are California Peace Officers, have no jurisdiction to arrest individuals if they are complying with state law," the airport marijuana policy reads. "However, airport guests should be aware that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening stations are under federal jurisdiction."
Can you fly with medical marijuana?
The same TSA and CBP rules apply to traveling with medical marijuana.
"Marijuana and certain cannabis-infused products, including some Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, remain illegal under federal law," per the TSA. This excludes products with less than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis or that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Can you fly with cannabis-infused products?
Rules get murkier when traveling with cannabis-infused or THC products, such as oil, leaf marijuana, edibles and hash, which remain illegal under federal law and are thereby not permitted during air travel.
But some marijuana-derived substances are not quite as straightforward. For example, CBD oil derived from hemp has been legal since 2018, but oil remains prohibited by the TSA.
You can travel with vape pens in carry on-bags only, but they cannot be checked if containing lithium batteries exceeding 100 watt-hours, per TSA rules. If the cartridges you're carrying for the vape pen contain THC, those are illegal on the federal level. You can also carry on marijuana paraphernalia (bowls or pipes).
Bear in mind that TSA officials are not trained specifically to differentiate between various types of cannabis products, meaning if they see something suspicious (such as a bong) that may be associated with federally illegal substances, they'll likely report it to local law enforcement.
What happens if the TSA finds weed in your luggage?
Regardless of state law or airport jurisdiction, your cannabis products will be confiscated, given federal law.
It's in the transfer from the TSA to law enforcement where some loopholes in the federal rules might be found, depending on whether local law enforcement is interested in pursuing the matter further.
Consequently, travelers caught with marijuana should know that the repercussions can vary widely depending on that specific state’s policies on possession.
Marijuana laws vary by state, and airports encourage travelers to check the specific laws of the states where they plan to travel.
By law, TSA officers are required to report any suspected law violations to local, state or federal authorities since federal law applies at all border crossings and airports.
But the TSA and local law enforcement at the airport for domestic travel — especially in weed-friendly states — will be far more focused on potential security risks than low-level drug enforcement.
Though it is unlikely you'll be cited, detained or prosecuted for carrying a pot brownie or baggie of gummies onto your flight in most states, the simplest and safest option is to not travel with any marijuana and pick up a new supply upon arrival at your destination.
Domestic airport travel with marijuana should be considered a low-risk, but not risk-free, action.
Bill Fink previously contributed reporting.