TSA Backtracks On Medical Marijuana Policy Change

By Tom Angell | April 05, 2017

UPDATE 2: 

TSA updated its site again to re-add information about medical marijuana, but this time it has a big red “No” instead of a green “Yes.”

We’ve edited the headline of this story accordingly.

UPDATE 1:

Following publication of this story, TSA removed marijuana from its new webpage and posted a tweet saying that a “mistake was made.”

The cached version of the page still shows the marijuana information.

ORIGINAL STORY:

It’s official: The federal government doesn’t care if you bring medical marijuana on airplanes.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has specifically marked medical cannabis with a big green “Yes” on its new “What Can I Bring?” webpage:

“TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs,” the page says. “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.”

That means that depending on what state they are traveling from, patients might have to show their official ID cards or doctors’ recommendations to local cops, but then they’ll be able to travel on their way.

It has been known for some time that a number of airports in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal have taken a mostly hands-off approach to cannabis, and TSA has often tweeted in response to passenger questions that that it “has no regulations on transporting marijuana.”

But the new “What Can I Bring?” page, uploaded on Tuesday, is the TSA’s clearest indication yet that you can carry cannabis on flights.

The new page replaces TSA’s less-friendly-sounding “Prohibited Items” page, which didn’t mention marijuana at all.

Separately, the agency’s older My TSA app addressed how its agents handle cannabis:

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.

Still online, the older app marks cannabis with a yellow alert icon instead of the green icon given to items like vitamins and EpiPens, suggesting that the newer green “Yes” on the “What Can I Bring Page?” represents a change in TSA policy to be even more accommodating to carrying cannabis while flying the friendly skies.

On the new page, items like breast milk, eye drops and salad dressing are marked with a yellow “special instructions” indicator, but medical marijuana is not.

While it has a poor reputation among many liberty lovers due to its intensive security checkpoint screening policies, TSA is by far one of the more friendly federal agencies when it comes to marijuana, a substance that remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act for all use despite the growing number of states that are ending prohibition.

Late last year, TSA clarified that being a medical marijuana patient is not disqualifying for enrolling in its Pre✓ program that allows expedited access through airport security.

On the new site, TSA lists a number of common federally-legal products as treated more restrictively than medical marijuana, including alcoholic beverages over 140 proof, bottled water, corkscrews, liquid bleach, recreational oxygen and, of course the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone.

It is unclear if TSA considers state-legal recreational marijuana as cleared for takefoff along with medical cannabis, but its previous statements suggest that it will continue to refer drugs its agents discover to local law enforcement. In states that have enacted legalization, of course, cops can’t arrest people for possessing small amounts of cannabis.

It’s less of a settled question as to what happens if someone is traveling from a place where marijuana is legal to a place where it is not, but a spokesman for the Los Angeles Airport Police recently indicated that at LAX it doesn’t matter where a passenger is heading.

“We don’t have the power to enforce the federal law,” he said.

Following a lawsuit from a passenger who wasn’t allowed to fly with marijuana, the Anchorage International Airport in Alaska enacted a new policy late last year allowing the carrying of recreational cannabis for both in-state and out-of-state travel.

But at Portland International Airport, the policy is that while medical cannabis patients can bring their medicine anywhere, recreational marijuana is “not permitted to be transported out of Oregon.”

The policy is even more strict at Denver International Airport in Colorado, which bans marijuana altogether and makes no apparent exception for medical cannabis.

So while some marijuana issues will be handled on an airport-by-airport basis, the TSA’s new cannabis clarification represents the Trump administration’s first official move on marijuana, and it’s a positive one.

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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