TSA (Transportation Security Administration) now allows CBD (Cannabidiol) in airports and on flights. TSA clarifies that the CBD products must be hemp-derived “under the Agriculture Improvement Act 2018.” They recently updated a section of their website “What Can I Bring?” regarding medical marijuana shown below.
Possession of cannabis and “certain cannabis infused products” are still prohibited, but the wording opens up the possibility of some cannabis infused products being allowed. TSA has made it clear several times that their security officers are not searching for illegal drugs, including marijuana, when screening luggage. This tweet from February illustrates that, though their policy on hemp-derived CBD oil has changed.
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,”
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,”
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.
Thanks to a recent glitch on the TSA website, it was safe to bring medical marijuana on a flight if you had a prescription. Although the government agency commented that it was a “glitch” on their site, the mistake inspired a survey on how many people fly with cannabis.
It turns out, about 50 percent of respondents have traveled with marijuana within the United States, but it seems to be less common for international travel, dropping to just over 10 percent of travelers. A spokesperson for the travel site who conducted the survey said about 5000 people responded, and their readers tend to be between 18-35 years of age.
Officials have previously stated that TSA agents are mainly looking for things would endanger the lives of passengers. Their website states, “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.”
But even in states where cannabis is legal, traveling with it is still not allowed.
“We have an administrative policy in place that prohibits the possession of any form of marijuana on airport property,” said Heath Montgomery, spokesman for Denver international airport. “There’s no distinction for us between medical marijuana or otherwise. Our policy prohibits the possession, display, or use of any form of marijuana.”
This creates a legal grey area. While TSA appears to be referring anyone caught with marijuana at the airport to local authorities, those authorities in states with legal cannabis would have a difficult time prosecuting marijuana possession charges.
“To be clear, it’s not a criminal offense,” said Montgomery. “But there is an administrative citation that the airport has the authority to write to somebody for violating our rules.”
For medical marijuana patients and individuals who prefer to bring their own, there are some steps one can take to minimize their risk of being caught. While the TSA may not be interested in cannabis, United States Customs and Border Protection (CPB) has a mandate to curb drug trafficking, but their focus is on other drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly recently commented in a TV interview that, “marijuana is not a factor in the drug war,” but Kelly, just days later, called marijuana a gateway drug and said, “Its use and possession is against federal law and until that law is changed by the United States Congress we at DHS along with the rest of the federal government are sworn to uphold all the laws that are on the books.” He also mentioned that, “ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements” to deport illegal immigrants, which is in line with the Trump Administration’s vow to accelerate deportations.
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