In a state where flying can be the only way to transport goods, distributors in Alaska’s legal marijuana industry are balancing federal laws with the cooperation of local law enforcement to get their product to retailers.
TSA’s policy on traveling with marijuana had to be reiterated in early April when a website glitch momentarily suggested that medical marijuana was allowed on flights. Their policy has been to not actively search for marijuana, instead focusing on immediate security threats. If marijuana is discovered during a search, they refer the matter to local authorities.
This is where Alaska’s local law enforcement and airport police step in.
Michelle Cleaver, owner of Weed Dudes in Sitka, pioneered a method that other cannabis business owners have since adopted. By contacting law enforcement prior to her flights, she then notifies TSA at the airport of the contents of her luggage, which can be cannabis flowers by the pound and as much as 65 pounds worth of edibles. At that point, TSA’s policy on marijuana kicks in, and she is referred to airport police, who have already been notified of the marijuana in her carry-on.
“As long as they have all of their proper Marijuana Control Board documentation … they can continue to travel at their own risk,”
said Deputy Chief Aaron Danielson of the Fairbanks International Airport Police and Fire Department.
Aside from Juneau’s airport police, airports throughout Alaska have been allowing the transport of cannabis within the state’s borders using similar methods. Alaska’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office is aware of how cannabis is being transported by plane, according to AMCO Director Erika McConnell.
Cleaver is careful to follow state law regarding the transportation of cannabis. She packages her marijuana with care to ensure there’s no cannabis odor, and transports it in her carry-on luggage so that it doesn’t leave her hands during transit.
“If it smells like pot, the whole deal’s off,” she said.
The FAA has no policy on file for flying with marijuana, wrote Allen Kenitzer, spokesperson for the FAA. If marijuana was discovered, the FAA’s duty would be to determine if the airline and its pilots followed the law.
Alaska Airlines’ prohibits marijuana on their planes, according to their website, but they have no established process for inspecting luggage.
“I don’t think we can search every bag. All we can do is let the customer know what the rules are,”
said Marilyn Romano, regional vice president for Alaska Airlines.
State law requires those traveling with marijuana to document their travel itinerary in its entirety. As long as Cleaver keeps the contents of her carry-on luggage to herself and local law enforcement, she can avoid confrontation with the airlines.
Since marijuana is still a Schedule I substance according to federal drug policy, Cleaver and her colleagues in the business take a risk each time they travel with marijuana. But thanks to her arrangement with local authorities whose priority is to uphold state law, “It has gotten easier,” said Cleaver.