Thinking about flying with cannabis on your next vacation? In most cases, you better find an alternative because you may face serious criminal penalties for boarding an airplane with cannabis. However, at a few airports, law enforcement allows passengers to fly with cannabis when certain very limited conditions have been met.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the federal agency staffed with regulating airports. TSA agents are not law enforcement officers and they do not arrest or detain people. According to the TSA website, TSA agents do not specifically search for marijuana, but if they find cannabis on a passenger they will call in airport law enforcement without regard for whether cannabis is or is not legal in the particular state in which the airport is located. TSA takes this position because it is bound by federal laws, including the federal Controlled Substances Act, which makes cannabis illegal under federal law. The law enforcement officers then decide whether to take action against the passenger found with cannabis. These airport law enforcement officers are usually part of the state or local police force and in states with legalized cannabis, they may allow passengers to board a plane with cannabis still on their person.
Many airlines, especially in states with medical marijuana legalization, are silent on the issue of flying with cannabis. However, some airports have publicly adopted policies on cannabis. The following is a rundown of how some airports in different states treat marijuana both at the airport and in the skies:
Alaska. Alaska is still promulgating its rules on marijuana, but the Anchorage Police Chief has stated that officers will not interrupt a passenger’s travel plans if the passenger is not violating the law. Reading between the lines, this seems to indicate that passengers bringing cannabis on in-state flights will not face opposition from local law enforcement, so long as they are otherwise compliant with state law.
California. Though California has yet to fully legalize cannabis, the San Francisco police at SFO allow “card-holding medical marijuana patients to carry up to 8 oz. when traveling.” Most other airports in California do not allow patients to bring medicinal cannabis on flights.
Colorado. Despite full state legalization, the two largest Colorado airports (Denver and Colorado Springs) prohibit passengers from flying with cannabis. Denver Airport posts signs stating that violators face a $999 fine if caught with marijuana. The Colorado Springs Airport prohibits cannabis but provides “amnesty boxes” in which passengers can anonymously discard their cannabis before boarding a flight without facing any civil or criminal penalty or missing their flight.
Oregon. The Portland International Airport (PDX) recently declared that it would allow cannabis on intra-state flights. If a TSA agent finds marijuana on a passenger at PDX he or she will alert local law enforcement who will then verify whether the passenger is of age, flying in-state, and is carrying a legally allowable amount of marijuana. A passenger who meets all criteria is then free to board the plane. A passenger who does not meet all of the criteria must dispose of the cannabis before getting back in line to clear security.
Washington. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) warns passengers about boarding planes with cannabis for destinations where cannabis is illegal, but has yet to say anything regarding purely intra-state travel. Spokane’s airport also has not announced an official policy on intra-state cannabis travel but we have heard that Spokane airport police do not prohibit cannabis on intrastate flights so long as the carrier is of age, traveling in state, and has a legally allowable amount.
If you are going to fly (literally) with cannabis, you should be sure that cannabis is legal in both your depature and your destination city. Additionally, you should examine whether the airports you are flying through have adopted a policy on cannabis.