Air travel restrictions and marijuana
Three US states, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, allow any adult aged 21 or over to purchase small amounts of marijuana (cannabis), without any prescription, license, or other special permission.
While the US federal government has previously allowed these states, plus over a dozen others, to allow marijuana purchases by individuals for medical purposes, the changes that have happend in these three states are significant because the general public, including air travelers from other states and countries, will be able to legally buy and consume marijuana.
Although marijuana laws and regulations have changed in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, they have not changed at the federal level, and federal law governs what happens on board an airliner in the US. Those federal laws and regulations are summarized below:
- Secure areas of the airport (the area beyond the TSA screeners) are under federal control.
- Marijuana is not allowed in the secure areas of the airport.
- The US federal government does not allow marijuana on airliners, either in carry-on bags, checked luggage, or cargo.
- Passengers are not allowed to carry marijuana and related products into or out of the US.
- Marijuana that is prescribed for medical conditions (medical marijuana) has the same federal restrictions as marijuana purchased for recreational use (recreational marijuana).
Key things passengers should know
There are a few key things that any airline passenger should understand about the changes in the laws that may impact their decisions to travel to or from the states of Washington or Colorado:
- Federal law has not changed: Marijuana has been, and continues to be illegal at the federal (national) level. However, the federal government has allowed the governments of individual states to allow for the production, distribution, and consumption of marijuana related products within that state's borders.
- Only some states allow marijuana: While about 20 states allow the use of medical marijuana, only three, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, also allow for the sale and use of recreational marijuana.
- Possession is limited at airports: The federal government has banned marijuana from any federal property, or any areas under federal control. That would include the secure areas of the airport (the areas inside the TSA screening areas), and on any airliners. In addition, some airports may ban the use or possession of marijuana in all parts of the airport.
- You can't fly with marijuana: The federal government bans marijuana, even medical marijuana, on aircraft, whether in a carry-on item, in checked bags, or in any package being shipped by air.
- Medial marijuana is treated the same: The federal government makes no distinction between medical marijuana and other kinds of marijuana.
The TSA and marijuana
The TSA is not a law enforcement agency, and the TSA has stated that its security officers do not specifically search for illegal drugs. If a marijuana-related item is discovered, even in states where marijuana is legal, TSA's policy is to refer the matter to law enforcement to make a determination on how to proceed.
Since law enforcement at an airport typically handled by a local or state level law enforcement agency, how a passenger will be treated will depend on the location and the circumstances. At the very least, the passenger's marijuana will likely be confiscated.
Flying to a US state to for marijuana
While there is a federal prohibition against the possession and use of marijuana, the federal government has granted states limited authority to allow the use of medica or recreational marijuana within its borders. What this means is that although you may be able to fly to or from a state for the purposes of consuming marijuana or marijuana-related products, you can't bring marijuana in, or take marijuana out of any of those states.
You should understand the laws of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and other states that allow marijuana sales if you plan to travel there to purchase or use recreational marijuana.
Entering the US with marijuana
The situation is different for someone traveling to Colorado or Washington from outside of the US. All passengers entering the US must pass through US customs, and the federal government will not allow marijuana to enter the country. Also banned are any articles that are intended to be used with marijuana.
In addition, non-US citizens who attempt to enter the US with marijuana or marijuana-related items, or who are entering the US for the purpose of consuming marijuana be prevented from entering the country, and barred from entry in the future.
If you are a non-US citizen traveling to the US, you should understand the laws that customs officials will enforce.
Other marijuana resources
- International visitors
- Advice for the novice user
- Marijuana vocabulary
- Basic laws in Colorado and Washington
- Buying marijuana
- Edible marijuana
- Avoidable risks
- Air travel FAQs
- Drones and marijuana
- Prohibited items
Todd Curtis interviewed on iCannabisRadio.com
Dr. Todd Curtis of AirSafe.com was interviewed by iCannabisRadio.com on 3 February 2014 on various travel issues related to recreational marijuana. You can listen to the MP3 of the same interview or or watch the video on YouTube.
Cartoon by Andy Singer
http://www.airsafe.com/issues/cannabis.htm -- Revised 27 November 2016