International visitors and marijuana

While it is possible for visitors to the US who are not US citizens to legally purchase, possess, or consume marijuana (cannabis) while in some US states, it is not legal to enter or leave the country with marijuana or marijuana-related materials. Also, non-US citizens who enter the US for the purpose of purchasing or consuming marijuana may be turned away at the border, or even barred from entering the country at a later date.

What visitors to the US should know
If you are entering the US for the purpose of legally purchasing or consuming marijuana, you should be aware of the following:

  • Marijuana is legal only in some states: A state that allows the purchase, possession, and consumption of marijuana may limit such activities to medically-related uses, while other states allow any adult to purchase and consume marijuana without any restrictions.
  • Marijuana is illegal under federal law: Marijuana is not allowed in areas or activities that are under federal control, including airline travel and the crossing of state or national borders.
  • Marijuana is not allowed to enter or leave the country: Crossing the US border while in possession of any amount of marijuana is a violation under federal law. If you do so, your items will be seized and you will be subject to fines, penalties, and possible arrest.
  • Marijuana-related items are not allowed to enter or leave the country: Items that are intended to be used when consuming drugs, for example marijuana pipes, can't be brought into the US. If you do so, your items will be seized and you will be subject to fines, penalties, and possible arrest.
  • Marijuana is not allowed to cross state borders: The US government prohibits marijuana from crossing any state border.
  • No exceptions when entering or leaving states where marijuana is legal: Federal laws apply when on an airliner flying over US territory, or flying to or from any point in the US.
  • Visitors to the US must pass through customs: All visitors to the US may be questioned and may have their possessions searched when entering or leaving the US.
  • Violators may be prevented from entering the US: If you not a US citizen and are found to be in violation of federal marijuana laws, or even if it is suspected that you plan to purchase, posses, or consume marijuana, you may be turned away at the border (or other point of entry such as an airport), and you may also be prevented from entering the US in the future.

US laws and law enforcement
You should be aware of the following realities and organizations when it comes to US laws and restrictions related to marijuana.

Federal laws and state laws - In the US, there are a complex set of laws and traditions that determine what laws are enforced and what part of the government enforces those laws. In general, federal laws apply throughout the US, and state law applies only to that particular state.

When state laws are in conflict with US laws, the federal laws will usually be the ones that are enforced. Marijuana is an exception in that it is illegal at a national level, but legal in some states.

Federal laws and marijuana
There are some activities and areas that are controlled by federal laws and not by state laws, and in those areas the federal government has completely banned marijuana. Key areas and activities include the following:

  • Airline travel: Marijuana is not allowed on an airliner, or in the secure portion of an airport.
  • Border crossings: Marijuana and marijuana-related products are not allowed to enter or leave the US through any port of entry at an airport, seaport, or land border.
  • National parks: Marijuana possession or use is not allowed in any national park.
  • Postal system: Marijuana can't be mailed using the US Postal Service, or private shipping companies such as UPS or FedEx.
  • Other federal property: Marijuana is banned from military bases, embassies, federal buildings such as courthouses, and any other federal property.

The role of US Customs and Border Protection - The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the border security agency for the United States. It is responsible for enforcing a number of federal laws, including those related to marijuana.

The role of the TSA - The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for transportation security, primarily at airports. The organization screens all commercial airline passengers and baggage on domestic flights, and screens passengers and baggage entering the secure area of airport terminals.

If you are flying into the US and have to change planes before reaching your final destination, you and your baggage will be processed first by CBP and then by TSA before you can continue your journey. TSA is not a law enforcement agency, and if their screeners discover marijuana or marijuana-related items, they will contact local law enforcement representatives at the airport.

Other marijuana resources

Basic laws for legal recreational marijuana -- Revised 1 October 2015