The circumstances were perfect: I was meeting up with one of my best friends from college… If you're thinking of traveling with weed in your baggage, here is what you need to know. The laws are not as simple as you might think.
What will TSA actually do with your weed if you’re traveling between two states where it’s legal?
FILE – A TSA employee searches the luggage of a United Airlines passenger at a security checkpoint at San Francisco International Airport on Aug. 10, 2006. TSA officers are required to report any suspected violations of law, including possession of marijuana and cannabis infused products. While they don’t search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, in the event they find an illegal substance, they will refer the matter to a police officer to enforce state law.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Show More Show Less
Denny sits for portrait during narcotics K-9 training at the Oakland International Airport on Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. The dogs and the handlers are training to spot many types of drugs, excluding marijuana. Amid legalization of marijuana, California’s current pot-sniffing K-9s face retirement.
Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle Show More Show Less
5 of 60 Bob Burns was the wit behind TSA’s Instagram account, before he passed away in 2018. He had been working with TSA since 2002 and was largely responsible for its social media presence. He posted photos of items that people tried to take through TSA checkpoints and failed miserably. Here are a number of recent ones, with his commentary. TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
7 of 60 TSA: “We need to talk about your flare. If you want to express yourself, this is the wrong kind of flare. You need flair. 37 pieces to be exact. … This flare gun was discovered in a carry-on bag at Honolulu (HNL). Flare guns are only permitted in checked bags without the flares.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
8 of 60 TSA: “9 out of 10 dentists recommend not hiding knives in toothbrush handles. This small pocketknife was discovered inside the taped handle of a toothbrush at Cleveland (CLE).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
10 of 60 TSA: “A Milwaukee (MKE) traveler found himself behind the eight ball after this concealed knife was discovered in his pool cue. All knives are prohibited, and concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest. #Scratch” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
11 of 60 TSA: “Satan’s fidget spinner was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV). While normal #FidgetSpinners are permitted, this one is a weapon.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
13 of 60 TSA: “This traveler must have been under the impression that they’d have to blaze a trail to get to their gate at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
14 of 60 TSA: “I’m guessing you pull the pin to get it to walk? Inert grenades, real grenades or anything resembling a grenade is prohibited altogether from being brought on a plane. This grenade creature was discovered in a carry-on bag at Albuquerque (ABQ).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
16 of 60 TSA: “This gives ‘protection’ a whole new meaning. However, fines stink, and concealed items such as this knife in a deodorant container can lead to a fine and even an arrest. Don’t sweat it; just pack your knife in your checked bag. Also, stick deodorant (without a knife) is permitted in carry-on bags in any amount. It’s the liquid, gel and aerosol deodorant that must adhere to our liquid rules. This was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Bradley International Airport.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
17 of 60 TSA: “Foiled again! Some are under the impression that tinfoil can make things invisible. #Nope This knife was discovered in carry-on bag wrapped in foil at Houston (HOU).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
19 of 60 TSA: “‘Paging Davy Crocket to the security desk…’ This powder horn full of black powder was discovered in a checked bag at Boise (BOI). Black powder is an explosive and is strictly prohibited in both carry-on and checked bags.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
20 of 60 TSA: “We’ve got nothing against propane and propane accessories, but dang it, Bobby, you can’t pack two propane tanks in your checked bags. Propane has a propensity to explode and is prohibited all together from air travel. These were discovered at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
22 of 60 TSA: No. Unga bunga. Ooog smork nag gralk. (Please pack in checked bag.)” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
23 of 60 TSA: “This inert explosives training aid was brought through the checkpoint at Columbia (CAE). It wasn’t an in-house test; it was left in the carry-on bag of a traveling soldier who said he uses it as a training aid. It hasn’t been confirmed yet whether or not the X-ray operator needed a stiff drink after their shift . Even though it’s inert, it’s prohibited due to the fact that it looks so realistic.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
25 of 60 TSA: “Apparently, even rocket scientists have trouble packing their bags. This model rocket and engines were discovered recently in a checked bag at Greenville (PGV). All rocket engines are prohibited in both carry-on and checked baggage.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
26 of 60 TSA: “According to Wikipedia, the M224 60 mm Lightweight Mortar is a smooth bore, muzzle-loading, high-angle-of-fire weapon used for close-in support of ground troops. #ProTip – Even though they were unloaded, you can’t declare and check mortar tubes with your checked bags as you would with firearms. This one was discovered at the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport in Guam (GUM).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
28 of 60 TSA: “This replica of @AMCTheWalkingDead’s “Lucille” was discovered recently in a carry-on bag at Atlanta (ATL). The barbed wire is actually made from rubber and the blood is fake (we hope). However, baseball bats are prohibited from carry-on bags and must be packed in checked luggage. #TWD #Negan We’re just glad Lucille wasn’t thirsty.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
29 of 60 TSA: “This gives ‘photo shoot’ an entirely different meaning. The camera was fine as a carry-on, but due to its similarity to a firearm, the handle/grip/trigger mechanism needed to be placed in a checked bag. This was discovered in a carry-on bag at LaGuardia (LGA).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
31 of 60 TSA: “While good food can be scarce on an aircraft, there’s no need to resort to the hunger games. This collapsible bow and arrows were discovered in a carry-on bag at Chicago O’Hare (ORD)” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
32 of 60 TSA: “This wasn’t prohibited, but when an actual lunar sample comes through a TSA checkpoint, you’ve got to mention it! @NASA Exhibits Specialist John Oldham was happy to let our Dane County (MSN) officers and fellow travelers take a closer look at the rock. The sample was collected during the #Apollo15 mission in 1971. It was the first mission to use the Lunar Roving Vehicle and 170 pounds of lunar surface material was collected and brought back to earth. #NASA rocks!” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
34 of 60 TSA: “This is an oldie but a goody. These shotgun shell Christmas lights were discovered back in December of 2012 in a carry-on bag at the Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). All ammunition whether real or replica is prohibited from being transported in carry-on bags. This traveler wasn’t up to anything malicious, so they likely still made Santa’s nice list that year.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
35 of 60 TSA: “Newark (EWR) traveler attempted to take their hoe on the plane. If you need to travel with your gardening hoe, it’ll have to go in your checked bag.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
37 of 60 TSA: “A box of festively wrapped heroin was discovered in a checked bag at Los Angeles (LAX). This is an example of why our officers have to open gifts at times. They don’t enjoy it, but if there’s an anomaly inside, they have to check it out. We’re not looking for drugs, but in this case, it was nothing but drugs. When narcotics are discovered, our officers must notify the police.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
38 of 60 TSA “This pair of disgruntled throwing knives are throwin’ some serious shade at their owner for packing them in a carry-on bag. All knives must be packed in checked bags. These were discovered at Chicago O’Hare (ORD).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
40 of 60 TSA: “If you’re looking for that stunning shade of lipstick, this bejeweled stun gun disguised as lipstick might just do the trick. It’s sending shockwaves through the fashion community. It was discovered in a carry-on bag at Baltimore (BWI).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
41 of 60 TSA: “What you’ve got here is a one-pound container of gun powder. It was discovered in a traveler’s checked bag at Anchorage (ANC). Powdered Eggs?…Protien Powder?…Powdered Peanut Butter?…Gun Powder❌ #Nope” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
43 of 60 TSA: “Oooooh! Ahhhhh! It’s that time of year again where we remind everybody that fireworks and firecrackers are not allowed in carry-on or checked bags. These were all discovered recently at Houston (IAH) and Wichita (ICT). #Fireworks” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
44 of 60 TSA: “Elementary, my dear Watson. Some people need a little help when they’re on their feet, but in order to bring a mobility aid onto an aircraft, it cannot double as a deadly sword or immobilizing stun gun. Most people do not realize they have a sword in their cane. Best to check. From left to right, these sword canes and stun cane were discovered in traveler’s carry-on property at Ft. Lauderdale (FLL), Phoenix (PHX), and Salt Lake City (SLC).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
46 of 60 TSA: “There’s a modern convenience in aircraft today called the overhead light that negates bringing fueled up lanterns on the aircraft. As you guessed, fueled up lanterns are not allowed in carry-on or checked bags. The only way this lantern would be permitted is if it was empty and had no traces of fuel at all. This was discovered in a traveler’s carry-on property at the San Diego International Airport (SAN).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
47 of 60 TSA: “This weapon will not only help you defend yourself against Orcs, but it also allows you to butter two slices of toast at the same time! This one was discovered in a carry-on bag at Chicago Midway (MDW). Please pack items such as this in your checked bags.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
49 of 60 TSA: “Why does this gigantic teddy bear look so sad? He was abandoned by his owners at LAX after the airline and TSA determined that he was just too big to be screened as a carry-on and taken on the plane. (UPDATE) After watching a YouTube video posted by the traveler, we’ve learned that he’s a popular YouTuber and this was a stunt to see if he could get the giant bear on the plane. . (He) had actually bought a ticket for the bear. After the airline and TSA decided the bear was too large, the airline offered to refund the ticket and the traveler was given the option of checking the bear as checked baggage. The traveler opted not to check the bear and left it behind.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
50 of 60 TSA: “Sometimes prohibited items write their own captions. Knives of any size are not allowed in carry-on bags. Please pack them in your checked bags. This knife was discovered in a carry-on bag at LaGuardia (LGA).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
52 of 60 TSA: I’m not sure why you’d bring this into the cabin of an aircraft. I mean… if there is a bear on the plane, he bought a ticket same as you. Would you want a bear to walk up to your seat and spray you with mace? Doubtful… Now if you’re out in the forest and he’s trying to steal your pic-a-nic basket, that’s a different story. All varieties of mace are not allowed in carry-on property. Mace can be packed in checked baggage, but bear mace canisters usually exceed the allowable volume of less than four ounces. it also must have less than a two percent active ingredient of either CS or CN. It’s best to purchase the bear mace at your destination. This canister of mace was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Seattle – Tacoma International Airport (SEA).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
53 of 60 TSA: “Holy cow! This cattle prod was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Chicago Midway (MDW) Airport. All shocking devices, especially cattle prods, are not allowed in carry-on bags. Please pack them in your checked bags with the batteries removed.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
TSA: “Billy the Kid would know better than to bring a knife to a gunfight. This gun knife was discovered in a carry-on bag at Des Moines (DSM). All knives, even souvenir gun knives, are prohibited from being packed in carry-on bags. Please place them in checked bags. #TSAGoodCatch”
56 of 60 TSA: This should spark some conversation. It’s a mobility device. It’s a self-defense weapon. It’s not allowed in your carry-on property because it delivers 1,000,000 volts! Shocking, we know. This was discovered recently in a traveler’s carry-on property at the Kahului.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
58 of 60 TSA: “Just as Batman had to lecture Boy Wonder about fastening his bat-belt, we find ourselves once again reminding readers that Batarangs are not allowed in carry-on bags. These were discovered in a carry-on bag at the Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL). #BOOM #CLASH #KABAM” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
59 of 60 TSA: “Talk about throwing a wrench into your travel plans… This monkey/grasshopper wrench was discovered in a traveler’s carry-on bag at the Will Rogers World Airport (OKC) in Oklahoma. Tools over 7” must be packed in checked baggage.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less
The circumstances were perfect: I was meeting up with one of my best friends from college for our first visit to Portland, Ore., and held the eager anticipation of what kind of antics we would get into during the exciting weekend ahead. Yet, preparing for this short vacation led me to Google something I’ve never searched for before:
Is it legal to bring marijuana on a plane from one state to another if it’s considered legal in both states?
Most websites’ answers were a resounding, seemingly obvious “no.” Go ahead, laugh at my naivety all you want. But after spending most of my life in the Midwest where recreational marijuana legalization seemed to be a far-off pipe dream, I honestly didn’t have a clue. Nor did I think it was a question I would ever have the opportunity to ask.
Sure, I knew I could just buy whatever I wanted when I arrived in Portland, but after spending money on plane tickets, a few nights’ stay in a hostel, and knowing I had other pending expenses ahead, I didn’t want to drop even more cash on something I already had – legally.
I even took to Reddit to ask people on r/trees (a go-to subreddit for everything related to cannabis with over 1.3 million subscribers). Most of the responses there ranged from caring – “I wouldn’t risk it, your weed will be waiting for you when you get back home :)” – to curt – “good luck getting caught and going to jail LOL.”
So, I went the safe route and left my edible gummies I was planning on bringing at my apartment and begrudgingly purchased more when I got to Portland. Still, I knew I wasn’t the only one questioning this legality. Whether you’re traveling to Portland like I was, or other big cities where recreational marijuana is legal – say, Seattle, Denver, Las Vegas, or Boston – it seems contradictory to have to leave your cannabis products at home when the law is giving you the green light in both your own city and destination.
That’s not to mention medical patients who need certain strains in order to combat chronic pain or alleviate symptoms of an illness. It was simple for me to just leave my weed at home, but what about patients for whom stopping usage can be detrimental to their health and well-being?
Long after I returned from the trip, I had the answer to my question, but still wanted the details. Are CBD products okay at airports? Is a TSA dog really going to sniff me out? Jenny L. Burke from the Transportation Security Administration provided me with some answers that might help you on your next journey.
The short answer:
As soon as you head into that airport, marijuana is considered a controlled substance and is therefore illegal from a federal perspective.
So, carrying a joint through the TSA checkpoint at a California airport is illegal?
Yes – but that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get in trouble if you get caught. TSA says that officers are required to report “any suspected violations of law, including possession of marijuana and cannabis infused products.” That being said, your weed likely isn’t their priority – the safety of everyone else is. TSA’s screening procedures are security-focused and designed to look for “potential threats” to aviation and passengers.
Is It Legal to Take Marijuana on a Plane?
As far as marijuana is concerned, its legal status is confusing for many in the United States. The issue of bringing cannabis on an airplane is a perfect case in point. It is a federally illegal substance like heroin. Consequently, one would assume that carrying it onboard an aircraft is a prohibited act.
Conversely, you may think it is okay as long as you fly from one ‘legal’ marijuana state to another. Neither supposition is accurate as shades of gray continue to cause problems. This article outlines if you can or should bring cannabis on a plane.
Marijuana & Airplanes – The Law in General
Cities own airports. However, the federal government is authorized to operate them, and federal law supersedes state law. It doesn’t matter if you buy your marijuana legally. It becomes an illegal substance from the moment you show a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent your boarding pass.
Yet even then, the issue is far from cut and dried. The TSA is tasked with keeping planes and passengers secure. They are far more concerned about finding explosive devices than marijuana.
The TSA’s screening procedures mean detecting potential threats. As a result, they are not actively looking for drugs, so you could technically sneak through without a problem. However, the likely outcome is that a TSA agent will find the cannabis and hand you over to airport security.
The Amnesty Box
When an airport security agent gets involved, there are several possible outcomes. Airports such as Aspen-Pitkin County in Colorado or McCarran in Las Vegas, Nevada, have a special ‘amnesty’ box. Passengers can place their cannabis in this box and not face any legal consequences. This is primarily because recreational use is permitted in these states.
If you’re fortunate, a police officer might wave you through with the marijuana if you have a valid MMJ card. However, this is an infrequent occurrence. You are far more likely to meet a law enforcement official who takes a dim view of your actions. While local police may not press charges, the federal government could potentially get involved.
It is a felony to transport ‘for-sale’ weed outside a state according to most states’ laws. It is also a federally illegal act. If you are caught with a large amount, you could spend several years in prison. The majority of cases that end up in court are tried on a state level. This is better news for the defendant because it increases the chances of a favorable outcome.
What About the Legal Marijuana States?
Don’t assume that taking cannabis from one recreationally legal state to another (Colorado to California, for example) is permissible. If a TSA agent finds marijuana or another illegal substance during security screening, the default policy is to contact law enforcement. Your destination and location of origin are not taken into account. The response of the TSA to cannabis at the airport is consistent across the United States.
Don’t assume that taking cannabis from one recreationally legal state to another is permissible.
Will you be arrested in an airport in a recreational state? The answer is: “It depends.” Officials are lenient in certain airports, such as John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, for example. Therefore, airport police won’t charge you with a crime if you have a state legal amount. You won’t be allowed to bring it onboard, however.
The likely response depends on the airport rather than the state. At Denver International Airport, for example, marijuana is banned anywhere on airport property. It is a very different story at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
LAX Is Lenient Regarding Marijuana Possession
Cannabis has been legal for recreational use in California since January 1, 2018. On the same day, LAX updated its marijuana policy. According to the airport’s official website, Los Angeles Airport Police Division (LAPD) officers have no jurisdiction to arrest anyone in possession of marijuana. That is, as long as you carry it following state law.
At the time of writing, passengers at LAX are allowed to travel through security with up to 8 grams of concentrated marijuana and 28.5 grams of marijuana flower. The policy also applies to several other airports under APD jurisdiction.
Traveling with weed? Here’s al…
It doesn’t mean you can go through security openly carrying cannabis. A TSA agent can stop you and contact the police as per the usual protocols. The difference is that the APD will arrive and wave you through.
Also, you can be arrested for cannabis possession when you land. Alicia Hernandez, a public information officer for the APD, spoke to Rolling Stone magazine a few years ago. She said that the APD “doesn’t concern itself with other state laws or whether travelers will be violating them upon their arrival.” Therefore, please make sure you check marijuana laws at your destination before boarding the plane.
A Risky Business
For the most part, law enforcement is not concerned about passengers carrying small amounts of cannabis. Even so, it is very much a case of ‘carry at your own risk.’ If you need it for medical purposes, make sure you have your MMJ card and don’t attract unwanted attention. Make sure there are no liquids in your bag, and there’s a chance that your edibles will go unnoticed.
It is very much a case of ‘carry at your own risk.’
It is a bad idea to try and bring oils or tinctures on board. The mere fact that they are liquid immediately draws attention. Edibles are much harder to detect, especially if you make them yourself and package them like everyday food items. Edibles also have less of a smell. In contrast, you are more likely to get caught if you try to bring cannabis flower through.
If you are caught, don’t object, complain, or get angry with the TSA agent. There is no point trying to talk your way out of the situation. Make sure you display your MMJ card if you have it. There is no real defense for interstate transportation, so stay silent, and ask for an attorney if you get arrested.
Is It Legal to Take Weed on a Plane? Final Thoughts
The issue of whether or not you can bring cannabis on a plane is straightforward if you look at a strictly legal definition. Airports are under federal purview. Marijuana is a federally illegal substance. Therefore, you can’t legally bring marijuana through airport security.