Despite Website Changes, TSA Still Has No Mandate to Search for Drugs
The Transportation Security Administration flip-flopped the language on their website, but not their policies.
Published on April 6, 2017

For medical marijuana patients, going to the airport can be a particularly stressful endeavor. Even if you’re traveling between two states that both recognize cannabis as medicine, it can be incredibly difficult to obtain MMJ in a state that you don’t live in, and taking cannabis on an airplane sounds like an easy way to end up in a jail cell, right?

And while it has long been TSA policy to search only for weapons and explosives instead of drugs, a change made to the “What can I bring?” section of the Administration’s website specified that medical marijuana would now be allowed to pass through airport security.

Below “Liquid Vitamins,” and above “Liquid Medicine” on the TSA website, medical marijuana was highlighted in green and given approved as a travel item. Below the highlighted approval it read: “TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs,” agency officials wrote on the TSA site. “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.”

The change was first noticed by Tom Angell at Mass Roots, which prompted reporters from Leafly to reach out to TSA for comment. Leafly was able to talk to TSA public affairs manager Lorie Dankers, who said that the website change was an attempt to clarify the rules, not change them.

“TSA’s response to the discovery of marijuana is the same in every state and at every airport – regardless of whether marijuana has been legalized in a state,” Dankers wrote to Leafly. “TSA’s focus is on terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers. TSA’s screening procedures, which are governed by federal law, are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers.”

“As has always been the case,” Dankers added, “if during the security screening process an officer discovers an item that may violate the law, TSA refers the matter to law enforcement. Law enforcement officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation or what steps – if any – will be taken.”

However, by the time Dankers had sent her response, the TSA website had changed again, but this time the medical marijuana section had disappeared.

Around the same time the MMJ section vanished, a TSA Twitter page responded to Angell’s story claiming it was a mistake. “We’re sorry for any confusion. A mistake was made in the database of our new ‘What can I bring?’ tool.”

About an hour after the section was completely removed, the website changed yet again. This time, the MMJ section returned, but the bright green turned to a deep red - medical marijuana apparently isn’t allowed in your checked or carry-on luggage.

The language used to describe the marijuana policy though, still says that TSA will not be checking for drugs, and will only contact local law enforcement in the event that they do find cannabis, or other federally scheduled drugs. 

In states like California, where medical and recreational marijuana are both legal, that means that it will take more than a local cop or TSA agent to take away your weed. 

So after three changes to the Administration’s website and a whole lot of hullabaloo, the TSA still doesn’t have a mandate to search for drugs, including weed.

It’s up to you whether or not you want to risk bringing your cannabis onto an airplane, but if you do - it isn't TSA you should be worried about.

Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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