Although cannabis is now legal for recreational use in 4 states and the District of Columbia, and in more than 20 states for medical purposes, possession and use of any amount remains illegal under federal law as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. With cannabis becoming legal in more states and overall acceptance increasing among the population, many cannabis enthusiasts are eagerly taking the herb with them wherever they go, often without concealment. There is still considerable caution to be had however, because traveling with cannabis without proper precautions and outside the legal boundaries could be met with serious legal consequences. Even the smallest leak of fresh ganja odor in the wrong place could be a huge buzz-kill. At minimum, unprepared travelers could face enduring delays when passing through airport security, or even worse, be subject to detainment, confiscations, and possible criminal charges.
Even in states where cannabis is legal, driving under the influence or possessing cannabis that is accessible while driving is still strictly prohibited. If you drive with cannabis, it’s best to store it in an area that is not immediately accessible by the driver (the trunk or glovebox), because having it in the passenger area, in an open container, or a container with a broken seal, could violate “open container” laws, similar to the restrictions placed on driving with alcoholic beverages. To prevent any possible DUI charges, it’s best to keep the product in its original dispensary container or child-proof packaging and refrain from accessing (or using) it, until after you get to your destination and park the car.
After enjoying all of Colorado’s finest strains, you may want to take a road trip to Cali and bring back some west coast famous Kush. No big deal right? It’s legal here and it will be legal there soon, so it should be cool. Wrong! In fact, taking a road trip from the Midwest to California is one of the most risky routes you could pursue for a pot-seeking crusade. Driving with any controlled substances over state lines is illegal and poses significant risks, even if traveling from one legal cannabis state to another. The profiling of drivers by police has long been a problem for cannabis users, and despite the progresses of legalization, the issue continues to persist on major highways and thoroughfares in most states.
Although it’s not permissible to be pulled over by police simply for what state your license plates represent or the bumper stickers on your vehicle, it is permissible to be stopped for ANY traffic violation, including minor offenses.
According to Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the hit documentary Busted: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters, in general, upon encountering police, you have the right to:
- Remain silent;
- Refuse consent to searches of your person and property;
- Ask if you are being detained or are free to go;
- If being detained, assert your right to silence; and
- Ask to speak to an attorney.
The best thing to prevent any unwanted attention or headaches is being conscious of the rules and attitude of every place you visit. Crossing the border from Colorado into Wyoming, Nebraska or Utah could mean the difference between freedom and criminalization. In Colorado, all adults 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of cannabis, but in Wyoming possession of any amount can land a user behind bars for up to a year.
Flying with cannabis also has its fair share of risks, as well as opportunities. The federal government has banned cannabis from any federal property, or any areas under federal control, including the secure zone of any airport, such as Transportation Security Administration “TSA” screening areas, and on board any commercial airliners. In addition, some airports may have their own explicit policies banning the use or possession of cannabis. Many airports are addressing the issue by installing uncanny “amnesty” boxes where travelers can dispose of cannabis at the last-minute without facing repercussions. While these harsh rules exist for air travelers, the TSA has signaled little to no interest in specifically looking for cannabis. To address common questions about possessing cannabis in the post-legalization era, the TSA released this statement to clarify its priorities:
“TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs. 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.
Whether or not marijuana is considered legal under local law is not relevant to TSA screening because TSA is governed by federal law. Federal law provides no basis to treat medical marijuana any differently than non-medical marijuana.”
Oregon legalized cannabis in 2014 and has recently begun the process of implementing new regulations. In part, the state is setting a precedence for cannabis users in lieu of a new policy that permits flying with cannabis on in-state flights, while still prohibiting flying with cannabis on flights going outside of the state. Not every state is so friendly, and most travelers will be crossing several states when traveling in the air this holiday season, so there isn’t as much grace for everyone outside of Oregon.
There may be a lot of street advice out there about how to smuggle cannabis on your flight, but in reality, many of those methods will likely create a more obvious target for airport security. Most travelers who take the risk of flying with cannabis simply put the cannabis in an enclosed container, and/or vacuum sealed bag to prevent the smell from becoming easily detectable, and keep it in their carry-on bag. Because cannabis likely can’t be seen through an x-ray detector which is designed to detect metal, in the worst case scenario, TSA can discover cannabis in the contents of your carry-on bag, but only after informing you that they “need to take a closer look”. At which point, you still reserve the right to refuse further searches and walk away without passing through security OR attempt to proceed and face the penalties imposed by law enforcement. Fortunately, TSA agents can use their discretion, so if you’re only traveling with a small, personal amount you may get lucky, instead of facing penalties, your personal stash may just get thrown out.
Ultimately, it is highly unlikely that TSA will discover cannabis as long as its odor is contained and passengers aren’t carrying obscenely large amounts. Putting cannabis in a checked bag could be worse, because you then risk the possibility of the bag being held in security and not showing up at your final destination in time. The statistics reflecting the number of passengers caught with marijuana are very low, and the development in Oregon indicates that traveling with cannabis will become easier, safer and more convenient as the laws and attitudes continue to shift in favor of legalization. In the meantime, do your homework, play it safe, and enjoy the time you get to spend with family and friends this holiday season and make sure to share your cannabis!