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How high can you get when you’re high?
Marijuana is legal in 23 states, 3 U.S. territories, and Washington, D.C. As 8 additional states have decriminalized its use, the substance is technically still illegal, but state authorities won’t prosecute people for it. However, the rules regarding traveling with marijuana get confusing since marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.
So how do you know if you can travel with marijuana legally? Are certain types of marijuana allowed but not others?
We’ll help clear up the confusion about whether it’s possible to travel safely (and legally!) with marijuana.
Does the TSA Screen for Marijuana?
When you fly within the U.S., you must be screened at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint before boarding, so the TSA is the main authority on whether you’ll be allowed to fly with marijuana.
That being said, weed, including joints and edibles like gummies, is illegal at the federal level. Since the TSA is a federal agency, marijuana is not permitted through TSA security checkpoints.
To add to this, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controls the airways. When you enter the country from abroad, you also have to deal with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Even if you’re flying from a state where marijuana is legal to another state where it is also legal, it is still illegal to fly with weed.
Any way you look at it, flying with marijuana isn’t legal. This remains true no matter where you put your marijuana — in your checked or carry-on luggage.
According to the TSA: “TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. 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.”TSA further notes, “This includes items that are used for medicinal purposes.”
How Does the TSA Deal With Marijuana in Luggage?
If you bring marijuana (or items that include marijuana) in your luggage, what happens if the TSA finds it?
TSA agents will likely confiscate the weed, but they could also tell you to surrender it in an amnesty box, put it back in your car, or throw it away. Your main concern at this point is whether or not they contact local authorities, but this depends on the state you’re in when the marijuana is found.
If you’re in a state where weed is legal, local authorities might still be contacted but will likely not respond. If they do, you won’t be prosecuted if you are in compliance with state laws. For example, if you’re flying out of LAX and are carrying a legal amount per California law, you won’t be prosecuted.
On the other hand, if any of the following apply, you could be prosecuted, depending on local laws. If you:
Are in a state where marijuana is illegal
Are in a state where marijuana is legal for medical purposes only and don’t have your medical prescription with you
Have more than the legal limit
Are below the legal age of possession
Ultimately, what happens after marijuana is found in your luggage can vary wildly based on what the local laws are — and the TSA and law enforcement officers you encounter.
The federal government classifies marijuana (including medical marijuana) as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means anyone transporting it across state lines is committing a federal crime and can be charged with drug trafficking. The minimum penalty, if you’re convicted, is up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the first offense.
5 Frequently Asked Questions About Flying With Marijuana
1. Can You Fly With Weed?
Technically the answer is no.
But practically speaking, you should use your own discretion. Since the TSA isn’t necessarily looking for drugs in your luggage, you can take the chance they won’t find it. But it’s important to be aware of the consequences of being caught.
If you’re flying between states where marijuana is legal, such as New York or Washington, the risks are much lower than if you are flying to a state like Tennessee or Texas. Ultimately, you’ll need to research the laws for the states you’re arriving and departing from and weigh the risks.
The federal government doesn’t treat medical marijuana differently. At the state level, if you travel to a state where medical marijuana is legal, you can present your medical marijuana card, and law enforcement officials will usually return the marijuana to you.
The airlines we noted above that ban marijuana on flights don’t make an exception for medical marijuana and restrict it from their aircraft. It’s important to research the rules before booking your flight!
3. Can You Fly With Cannabis-Infused Items?
Marijuana in all forms, including edible cannabis, is also illegal at the federal level. The same rules and restrictions apply.
4. Can You Fly With Marijuana Paraphernalia?
Yes. You may be scrutinized if these items are found, but you can travel with marijuana accessories with no restrictions.
5. Can You Fly With CBD?
Yes, travelers can travel with products like cannabidiol oil, or CBD, that contain less than 0.3% THC and are derived from hemp. The Federal Drug Administration has approved CBD, which is a molecule in cannabis that does not get someone high.
Passengers can bring products approved by the FDA in their checked or carry-on luggage.
While CBD is legal domestically, the laws vary in other countries. For example, the EU only allows CBD under 0.1% THC. Make sure it’s not illegal before you bring CBD into another country.
Marijuana Laws at the State Level
If you’re thinking of flying with weed, it’s important to research the relevant state laws, which vary widely, before you leave.
It’s especially important to note if you’re going to states where marijuana is illegal or only legal for medicinal purposes, as the repercussions of traveling to those states with marijuana could be much harsher.
Consider a cannabis vacation as an alternative to traveling with weed. We’ve analyzed the average cost of a cannabis vacation in 50 major U.S. cities and have recommendations for the best destinations for a cannabis vacation around the country.
Marijuana and International Travel
Though we’ve mainly been talking about domestic travel so far, many of the same rules still apply internationally.
CBP is a federal agency that enforces federal law. The main difference between the TSA and CBP is that CBP actually does search for drugs, including marijuana. It frequently uses K-9 dogs to sniff out illegal items. If an officer finds drugs, you could be fined, have criminal charges brought against you, or lose your Global Entry membership.
When you’re traveling back into the U.S., either at a border or preclearance site, CBP is entitled to ask questions related to marijuana possession, including paraphernalia. The CBP says that, if found, “The contraband and associated paraphernalia will be seized. Individuals can also face federal civil penalties of up to $1,000. CBP officers may also turn the case over to state and local departments for prosecution.”
The penalties for traveling with marijuana could be even higher at certain international destinations. There are even countries where the death penalty is possible if you’re found in possession of marijuana. In other words, it gets really serious, really fast. Basically, don’t try to cross borders with marijuana.
There is no legal way to fly with marijuana, including medical marijuana. This is because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. If you do fly with marijuana (no matter whether it’s recreational or medical), it’s incredibly important that you research the laws of both where you’re flying from and flying to so you know the risks involved.
Featured Image Credit: Alexander Grey via Pexels
Frequently Asked Questions
How dangerous is it to fly with weed?
The answer to this depends a lot on what the state laws are for your departure and arrival airports. Penalties, if found, could range from being asked to throw the marijuana away all the way up to prosecution for drug trafficking, which means up to 5 years in a federal penitentiary and $250,000 fine.
Do airlines check baggage for marijuana?
Generally, airlines will not check baggage for marijuana but your bags will undergo scanning as well as possible random checks. If the screeners find marijuana, the TSA has the right to call in local authorities.
Is it illegal to bring weed on a plane?
Yes, it is illegal to bring weed on a plane. This includes items in your checked or carry-on luggage. Even if the departure and arrival airports are in states where marijuana is legal, it is still illegal to fly with it. This is because weed remains illegal at the federal level and the TSA is a federal agency.
Can you travel on a plane with medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana is not treated differently than recreational marijuana at the federal level. It is illegal to fly with medical marijuana. In addition, some airlines specifically warn that medical marijuana is not allowed on their planes, although they are unlikely to search your bags to find it.
Can you fly with marijuana from one legal state to another?
No, it is illegal to fly with marijuana, even if both the arrival and destination states allow marijuana use. However, the likelihood of prosecution for possession of marijuana is low. Even if local authorities are called, they will likely only prosecute if the amount you possess is above the legal limit or you are below the age of possession in that state.
After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a certified CPA.