Airports Nationwide Attempt Balance Between Federal and State Marijuana Laws
Is air travel about to reach all new heights? Los Angeles International Airport recently announced policy changes which permit passengers to pack pot into their carry-ons. However, in what continues to be a hazy line between federal and state marijuana laws, bringing a bag of weed along on your next flight might not be the smartest travel move.
LAX Blazes New Trail with Airport Pot Permissions
Over 30 states have some type of broad legalization of pot, most involving medical marijuana. Eight states have gone a step further and legalized recreational use. With the passage of Proposition 64 in January, California is the newest member in this cannabis club, allowing marijuana consumption by any adult, 21 or older.
As a result of this new law, LAX Airport Police announced passengers may carry up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and eight grams of concentrate. However, the airport police aren’t the sole authority in this situation, which does pose potential problems for travelers.
Will the TSA Object to the Pot-Friendly Vibes?
Security at the Los Angeles International Airport is the responsibility of not just local agencies like the LAPD, but federal ones as well, such as the Transportation Security Administration. This creates an issue because possessing any amount of marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
TSA spokesperson Loria Dankers addressed the issue in a written statement. “TSA’s focus is on terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers.” If the TSA finds marijuana on a person or in his or her belongings, they’ll alert the local police, who will determine what happens next.
In LAX, police say the traveler will be let go. As long as they aren’t carrying more marijuana than the law allows, no crime has been committed.
Existing Policies at Airports
Recreational marijuana isn’t particularly new at this point. And, of course, all the states with legalized recreational weed also have international airports. Still, the permissive pot policies of LAX are hardly the norm elsewhere.
Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, does not allow pot possession inside Denver International Airport (the state’s largest airport). The airport cites federal illegality as the reason for the ban.
However, compliance instead of punishment is usually the main focus. If a DIA traveler is found to have marijuana, the Denver Police Department will typically ask the person if he or she is simply willing to dispose of the marijuana. If so, the traveler would be allowed to continue his or her travels.
Even other airports in California aren’t as permissive as LAX. For instance, the San Diego International Airport has no official policy on marijuana.
Can I Travel with Marijuana?
Even though LAX allows marijuana, that’s just one airport on a trip which presumably involves other stops in other states. For example,
Oregon allows travelers to carry marijuana on a flight, but only if they’re flying to another airport within the state. This opens up the pot-packing traveler to a variety of potential legal problems.
For instance, taking marijuana into a non-legal state is definitely prohibited. Even taking marijuana into a state where medical marijuana is allowed poses problems if you don’t have the proper medical documentation.
Plus, traveling with marijuana can also be a hassle. If the TSA finds pot on you or in your bags, even in a legal state, they’re going to refer you to local law enforcement. At the very least, you’ll be stopped and questioned. Even if there are no legal consequences, being interrogated can be a time-consuming process, and any unexpected delays in any airport can result in a missed flight or other travel headaches.
Generally, traveling with marijuana isn’t recommended. If you’re traveling from one legal state to another, buying marijuana in each respective state–instead of traveling with it–is usually the best and easiest option.
Will Other Airports Change Their Marijuana Policies?
So far, LAX’s decision has not resulted in policy changes at any other airports in legal states. Colorado officials released a statement clarifying that possessing marijuana remains illegal inside DIA.
LAX is the second busiest airport in the country, however, so their decision to allow small amounts of marijuana will be closely watched by other major travel hubs.
The conflict between federal and state marijuana laws continues to grow. As more states legalize marijuana, travel regulations will likely need to adapt or be clarified, especially concerning travel between two legal states. And, barring additional info from the federal government, issues such as the legality of allowing marijuana in an international airport will remain up in the air.