Although it may bear down on the old nerves to step into the security checkpoint at an airport with a little weed strategically stashed away in a sneaky bodily crevasse that you’re almost certain will not be discovered by the TSA agents searching people for weapons of mass destruction, flying into a wicked fit of high-powered paranoia just before it’s your turn for a pat-down will undoubtedly cause you more grief than the weed ever could.
But don’t take our word for it. Just ask 35-year-old Bronson Wells Howard, who reportedly freaked out in the middle of the Honolulu International Airport on Saturday, just seconds before undergoing a routine TSA search, because he had a joint hidden up against his nut sack. The incident has prompted federal prosecutors to file charges against the man for obstructing the duty of a federal employee and for assault.
But how did it all go down?
It seems that Howard did what most of us have done, at least once, before catching a long flight out of town – he rolled up a fatty and then began devising a plan for smuggling it on the plane without getting busted. That’s when he tucked the joint up under his junk, a common hiding spot, because he felt it was unlikely that any agent would dare fondle him long enough to become suspicious. At this point, Howard seemed to have his head in the game, but that would all change the moment he stepped into line for a security screening.
Although the report from the Honolulu Star Advertiser did not specify, we imagine this is where a bout of extreme anxiety began to set in, which caused Howard to make a rookie mistake of asking a screener whether it would be all right to bypass the body scanner portion of the search. Of course, anytime a nervous man goes out of his way to avoid a procedure that thousands of people must endure everyday, if they wish to fly, it raises a bright red flag and opens the passenger up to further investigation.
It wasn’t long before TSA screeners dragged Howard down to a secondary screening area to conduct a more physical exploration, which seems to be the moment where everything came unhinged.
During the pat down is when the anxiety must have transformed into full-blown panic. Reports indicate that a screener reportedly felt something near Howard’s groin and told him that the “anomaly needed to be resolved,” which prompted the man to push one TSA employee to the floor before taking off on a mad dash across the airport with only one shoe and his cell phone in tow.
Howard was eventually tracked down in the parking garage by a couple of airport security officers and then taken into custody by Sheriff’s deputies. When officers asked the man why he ran from security screeners, Howard told them it was because he had a little marijuana on him. However, he ditched the weed while trying to make his getaway. The joint was never recovered.
While marijuana possession is illegal in Hawaii without a state issued medical marijuana card, Howard would have likely avoided any hassle had he just remained level headed and made his way through the security check like a pro. That’s because a few years ago, TSA announced that it was not concerned with finding weed.
“TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs,” the statement reads. “In the event a substance that appears to be marijuana is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”
And even if TSA screeners were looking actively searching for marijuana, they probably wouldn’t find it.
A recent report from the Homeland Security Committee finds that a large percentage of TSA employees are guilty of “neglect of duty,” which includes “careless inspection; negligent performance of duties; failure to exercise due diligence in performance of duties;” and “failure to follow procedures." Trust us, the odds are in your favor.
In this case, possession of less than an ounce of weed in Hawaii is a misdemeanor offense, which carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. And while it is obscene that anyone caught holding a joint could get a first hand look at the inside of a jail cell, getting slapped with federal charges, especially anything involving assault, is much more serious.
California attorney Omar Figueroa, who specializes in cannabis-related cases, says traveling without weed is probably the best option, but if you must, stash it securely in checked luggage and never declare it.