The reality is nothing is safe. Driving a car is not safe. Walking outside during a lightning storm is also not recommended. Going through security at an airport with bud is also not the best idea, especially if you’re flying out of the country—no one wants to end up like Brittney Griner or Paul Whelan.
But jokes aside, It’s against the law to bring pot on an airplane because cannabis is still federally illegal. And, unfortunately, air travel is regulated by TSA and other federal agencies, so they abide by federal laws.
That said, thousands of people fly with pot every year in the US without ever getting in trouble. How can this be? Well, for one they travel smart. What does that mean? Not traveling with the stinkiest weed or products you have. Two Bay Area criminal defense attorneys explained to SF Gate that the quantity, type of product (so, edibles versus cannabis flower, for example), and location (carry-on versus checked baggage) all play a part.
For the most part, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) isn’t looking for cannabis, according to Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokesperson. Airport security is designed to look for safety threats, such as bombs and knives, not drugs. (Thank GOD.)
But attorneys still say you can get arrested for carrying weed through the airport — even in 420-friendly places like the Bay or LA. One attorney interviewed by SF Gate says one of their clients was carrying large quantities of cannabis flower when they got caught — nearly 25 pounds of cannabis. This suggests that the average user — traveling with some edibles or maybe an eighth of weed tucked into a sock inside of a jean pocket in your checked bag — may be in the clear.
William Panzer, an Oakland criminal defense attorney, told SF Gate he’s represented dozens of people who have been arrested for attempting to fly with cannabis through Bay Area airports.
Dankers, the aforementioned TSA spokesperson, confirmed to SF Gate that TSA staff refers cases to law enforcement if they suspect a traveler is carrying cannabis.
“Airport law enforcement will be notified if marijuana is discovered by a TSA officer during the security screening process of carry-on and checked baggage,” Dankers wrote in an email. “Law enforcement officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation or what steps — if any — will be taken.”
Regardless of where you are in California, TSA will more than likely send you to local law enforcement. According to lawyers interviewed by SF Gate, federal cops don’t have time to go after small amounts of cannabis.
“Is it illegal to carry it through security? The short answer is yes, on the federal level, it is. But is it the kind of thing that the federal government wants to expend resources to enforce? No,” said Neil Hallinan, a San Francisco criminal defense attorney.
So if local police are going to get called, remember that local law protects cannabis users. Golden State law allows adults to carry up to an ounce of weed and 8 grams of concentrates.
There’s also significant evidence showing that airport security won’t report you for carrying small amounts of weed. In Oakland, Panzer said the airport historically had a policy of ignoring less than 8 ounces of cannabis.
“For a while, it was if you’re under 8 ounces, they didn’t hassle you at the airport, and I think it’s probably the same right now,” Panzer said to SF Gate.
Bringing large amounts of cannabis through the airport greatly increases your risk of getting in trouble, however. Panzer said his last client caught carrying weed through the airport was flagged for having about 3 pounds on him. He was detained at the Oakland airport and missed his flight.
However, charges were never filed against the man. According to Panzer, the cannabis was industrial hemp, a category of pot that contains trace amounts of THC and is federally legal. The charges were dropped when Panzer showed the district attorney test results confirming it was industrial hemp.
Hallinan said his last airport cannabis case was in 2017 when his client was caught traveling with 25 pounds to Philadelphia. He was arrested and charged with a felony. Still, the district attorney ended up dropping the case to a misdemeanor after the client demonstrated that the cannabis was for medical use.
“If you have a large amount, they’re probably going to arrest you and try to charge you,” Hallinan said. Edibles are safer, whereas cannabis flower is the riskiest product to sneak through security for a few reasons. Cannabis flower smells, and it’s easy to tell what it is when you see it. Also, edibles typically don’t smell as strong (if at all), and they blend in with candy or other food products. Airport security is less likely to know that an infused edible contains pot.
“That’s just common sense. If someone walks in with a big bag of weed and someone walks in with a big bag of gummies, it’s obviously more likely they’re going to know what the weed is than the gummies,” Panzer said.
Hallinan confirmed that carrying edibles “drops the likelihood” of getting arrested significantly compared with flower. “If it’s marijuana, it’s easily recognizable. Gummies don’t have that same quality,” Hallinan said.
Removing the edible from its original packaging makes it easier to disguise a product even more — and is the recommended way of traveling with edibles. However, removing edibles from packaging is technically illegal under California law.
“The law in California requires that gummies remain properly packaged and labeled, but obviously, taken out of the package means you can’t distinguish it from any other kind of gummy,” Hallinan said.
Hallinan said cannabis vape cartridges are also safer than flower because they could be mistaken for nicotine e-cigarettes.
But don’t bring your vape pens to Russia. You may end up in a prison camp.