You can legally travel with marijuana. … Sort of. ... Barely.
Given how wonderful it is for relieving stress and provoking unbridled laughter, cannabis makes for a pretty ideal thing to bring on vacation. Even better, cannabis is medically or recreationally legal in more than half the country now, so the chances of you getting to enjoy a sweet, sweet legal joint on your summer getaway are exponentially higher. But what if you want to bring your own?
The simple answer is, “Don’t.”
While it’s pretty easy to pick up fresh product if your destination allows for it, things get a lot murkier when it comes to packing your stash for travel. Lots of people still do it, but it’s important to remember that pot is still federally illegal, and while the feds might not be beating down doors in San Jose, Calif. to bust you for an ounce, they might not be so forgiving if you’re found flying out of South Dakota with it, despite what the New York Times might have you believe.
It might seem ridiculous that you can’t bring legally purchased pot from one legal state to another, especially if you’re a medical patient whose cannabis is a form of blood pressure medication or diabetes control, but it is what is.
That said, sometimes circumstances demand you travel with herb. If you’re going to do it, here’s what you need to know before you go:
Cannabis is illegal in all federally controlled areas of all airports and on planes. And that goes for all cannabis, be it a tube of non-psychoactive CBD lip balm or some 31% THC Gorilla Glue.
While the NYT’s article contains some valid points about how rarely cannabis law is enforced by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) — 29 pot stops out of 54 million passengers at Denver International is effectively non-enforcement—the law is still the law. How it is enforced depends on a lot of moving parts, and the paper of record’s blithe suggestion that you can throw your pot in a pill bottle and waltz through security should be taken with a grain of hash.
A perfect example of this is singer Melissa Etheridge’s experience transporting her medical marijuana—she told the Times that TSA agents had inspected her bag without incident, besides leaving their notice of inspection directly on top of her pot. Now compare that with rapper Chief Keef’s, who was recently arrested in Sioux Falls, South Dakota after a bag search turned up a paltry amount of pot (for him). If you’re a black man known for your love of big blunts, and you’re flying out of a small, conservative Middle American town, you might want to pass it off before you leave.
Regardless of where you’re flying from, discretion is the better part of valor. Avoid reeking of weed and travelling with instantly recognizable cannabis products, like pungent flower buds or pre-rolled joints, and remove branding from topicals or edibles. As evidenced by Chief Keef’s mishap, your point of departure is also important to consider, as most bag searches occur on your way through security for departures. If you’re flying from Seattle to Sioux Falls, you’re probably good, but the reverse might not be true.
TRAINS AND BUSES
If you opt against flying, good call. But it’s also important to remember that both Amtrak and Greyhound prohibit pot on board, and Amtrak’s police department is a national level organization, and one that welcomes TSA personnel into the station to boot. That’s primarily for counterterrorism purposes, but the things that could get you in hot water with a TSA agent at the airport can also get you in trouble on the train. Either way, Amtrak isn’t having any of this state-level legalization, and they spell it out pretty clearly in their smoking disclaimer: “The use or transportation of marijuana for any purpose is prohibited, even in states where recreational use is legal or permitted medically.” Reports have surfaced on Reddit of bags being searched on the Greyhound for pot as recently as six months ago.
Legally speaking, your best bet is probably to drive (obviously not while under the influence). While almost all states prevent you from transporting an open container of cannabis in your passenger compartment, if you pack it in the trunk and keep it within that state’s possession limit, you’re in full compliance. Things get more complicated if your road trip crosses state lines – that’s technically trafficking. Most states have prohibitions against the export of cannabis included in their state-level statutes as well, so do your best to avoid borders. If you must go state to state, removing identifying packaging and checking the possession limits in your destination state are wise moves. It’s also important to make sure, if you’re a medical cannabis patient traveling from one medical state to another, that your destination recognizes out-of-state authorizations. Not all do.
Even traveling within a state by car can land you in trouble with the feds, if they pull you over within 100 miles of the U.S. border. See, federal agents have wide latitude to enforce federal law in what is considered border zones, and a California immigration checkpoint can quickly double as a federal weed dragnet.
And because beautiful, nationally protected parkland is always a hot destination for a road trip, it’s also worth noting that taking pot with you to national parks is illegal regardless of which state that park is in. Per the Mount Rainier National Park’s webpage, doing so could get you up to a $5,000 fine and up to six months prison.
And one more thing, foreign nationals scrub weed pictures from their phones or social media accounts when they travel to the U.S. According to multiple reports, U.S. Customs officials are using cannabis as a pretext to ban entry into the United States. Customs officers have reportedly asked inbound travelers if they’ve visited Colorado and smoked weed, which can be enough to cancel a visa and deny entry.
This might sound like a whole lot of rain on the “traveling with weed” parade, and it is -- but it all comes back to the quandary of federal prohibition. As long as cannabis is illegal at the federal level, traveling with it anywhere outside of your own backyard will be a legally dubious experience. Once the federal government catches up with its constituents, then maybe we can have reasonable cannabis policy. Sadly, until then, weed is still firmly in the no-fly zone.
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