To get her product from the grow houses of Anchorage to Weed Dudes, her pot shop in the small town of Sitka, Alaskan dispensary owner Michelle Cleaver books a flight, calls a cab and packs five pounds of high grade cannabis into her carry-on luggage. She then calls the police to let them know she’s coming, and notifies TSA agents once she arrives at the airport. This may sound like a recipe for arrest, but in a state with legal weed laws and treacherous weather conditions, it’s just how business is done on the Last Frontier.
Alaska is one of eight states with comprehensive recreational cannabis legalization, where adults 21 and older are more than welcome to walk into a local pot shop and walk out with a bag full of bud. But in America’s northernmost state, getting product to the far-reaching corners of the frozen tundra is difficult, especially when there aren’t enough cultivators in Alaska’s small towns to keep up with demand. But thanks to a unique agreement between local cops, TSA, and industry employees, dispensary owners are moving their product by plane, and they’re doing it with the full approval of local law enforcement.
"As long as they have all of their proper Marijuana Control Board documentation … they can continue to travel at their own risk," Deputy Chief Aaron Danielson with the Fairbanks International Airport Police and Fire Department told Alaska Dispatch News.
Because TSA has no mandate to search for drugs, if the federally employed security officers find weed, they simply notify local law enforcement. Local police at both Anchorage and Fairbanks International Airports have chosen to follow state law and allow cannabis on-board, as long as passengers are following local laws.
And for licensed distributors like Cleaver, that means carrying bags full of 600 pre-rolled joints, 65 pounds of edibles, or five pounds of flowers onto commercial flights. But just because the cops and TSA don’t mind, that doesn’t mean the airlines are excited about passengers carrying pounds of pot on their planes.
Alaska Airlines has a no weed policy, but TSA checks bags, not the airline, and with layers of smell-proof plastic, a bag of kush packs looks a whole lot like a bag full of clothes.
Under Federal Aviation Administration regulations, if an airline knowingly brings weed onto an airplane there could be legal recourse, but by letting cops and TSA know about their bud (leaving the airline in the dark), Cleaver and other Alaskan high flyers say they’re following the rules with plausible deniability - if the airline doesn’t know you’re flying with weed, they can’t be held responsible.
So far, everything has run smoothly, and local cops and TSA in Anchorage and Fairbanks aren’t snitching to the airlines, so small town consumers have been able to get big city bud without distributors risking life and limb on icy roads.
For Cleaver, getting on a plane with turkey bags full of trees still brings some heightened nerves, but she says that airport officials have started to recognize her, and even local cops admit that the system is working well.
"We haven't had any problems," Jesse Davis, chief of the Anchorage Airport Police and Fire, said.
Could the next step be a dispensary and smoking lounge in the airport? We can always dream…