Explained

Ask GreenState: How do I travel with my insomnia medicine?

The bane of flying with marijuana.

The bane of flying with cannabis — or are they? | GreenState file photo

It’s a brave new world and we’re getting inundated with really good questions about modern living with cannabis. We do our best to answer them in a weekly series called Ask GreenState. This week: some good old cannabis travel. We’ll share our tips if you share yours.


Question:

I’m flying to Seattle this weekend to visit some friends on Bainbridge Island. I take Kiva chocolates and this tincture for sleep and I love it. Is it legal for me to fly with this stuff?

— Happy Napper in Santa Rosa


Answer:

Gather round, folks. Here’s the rub: Entering airport property with any cannabis product is not technically legal. That’s because the airport has to follow federal law, and federal law says cannabis is as dangerous as heroin, or PCP. So you can bag-check a handgun, but not a flower named AK-47. Crazy, mixed up world, ain’t it?

If you are a by-the-book, rule follower, that’s all you need to know. Don’t do it. Class dismissed. …

… What’s that, you say? You’re a free thinker who stays cool under pressure? Well then, welcome to the wide world of cannabis travel. I once knew a guy, ahem, who put a bunch of cannabis tootsie rolls in those individual chocolate Riesen wrappers and flew those down to the Exumas, Bahamas for a wedding. Easy peasy.

So yeah, cannabis is illegal in federal airports, but like we detail in this 2017 post, lots of cannabis traveling is going on.

For one, the TSA says they are looking for bombs and knives. Not marijuana. They state: “TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers.”

Those police dogs running through SFO’s international terminal are trying to head off the next terrorist, not fans of cannabis’ terroir.

The TSA states that if you get stopped in an airport with contraband, they turn you over to the local police, who will enforce state law. The TSA states: “In the event a substance that appears to be marijuana or a cannabis infused product is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”

marijuana travel explained

Buzzkill: Seriously, save the THC for when you land.

In California, where you would take off, and in Washington, where you are landing, cannabis is legal. So if some TSA agent finds your stash, he is going to call a local police officer over to enforce state law. Again, cannabis is legal here and in Washington. 

Some caveats: Stay under the legal personal limits in your carry-on or checked bag. You don’t need 8 pounds of weed chocolate to make it through a Seattle weekender, right? If so, be prepared to convince a very skeptical judge.

Technically, legally, authorities could turn the stop into a federal possession case, but even Attorney General Jeff Sessions said March 10 that federal prosecutors “haven’t been working small marijuana cases before, they are not going to be working them now.” Are you El Chapo? No. Then you’re not their priority.

Bonus points for throwing your valid medical recommendation in the bag. It might help the optics of the situation. 

All this advice only applies to regional air travel among legalization states: Crossing international borders is always riskier (never take anything back into America); don’t even bother with non-legalization states (you could land in Texas and get hard time); and Amtrak and Greyhound are also federally run.

Lastly, maybe don’t fly with the tincture. The TSA hates those little glass bottles and the mystery liquid more than they care about the THC. One alternative is cannabis mints. Seriously, no one interrogates a mint.

How’d we do? Send your burning cannabis question — or favorite cannabis travel hack — to GreenState editor ddowns@sfchronicle.com. We’ll answer more questions and post the best hacks in the coming weeks.