Destinations

Can you travel to Europe with cannabis? 3 things to know before you try flying high

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With much of the country vaccinated and summer around the corner, it might finally be time to dust off some of those vacation days you’ve been hoarding. After a year of travel bans and border closures, the European Union has announced that all vaccinated Americans will soon be able to travel freely to and from Europe – which is usually the most popular destination for international travel from the U.S.

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But, ban or no ban, travel is always complicated for cannabis-enthusiasts. Cannabis is still federally illegal in the United States, and while an increasing number of countries in Europe are legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing recreational use, the way those laws are actualized varies wildly from country to country.

If you’ve got the travel bug but are reluctant to leave your pot behind, here are three things you should know:

1. Don’t try bringing cannabis into or out of the U.S. (even if it’s medicinal)

Even though recreational cannabis is becoming legal in states all over the country, medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis are both still fully illegal at the federal level in the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) abides by federal U.S. law, not state law – so, even if you’re leaving the country from California, a state where recreational marijuana is fully legal, attempting to enter another country with cannabis will be considered drug trafficking and a federal offense.

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Drug trafficking is a much more serious crime than drug possession. Depending on the quantity found, it can lead to a hefty fine and anywhere between three to five years to life in prison – not exactly something you want to risk, even if you’re using cannabis for medical purposes. We reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to find out what happens if you are caught smuggling cannabis on an international flight.

“Although medical and recreational marijuana may be legal in some U.S. states and countries, it remains illegal under United States federal law,” A CBP spokesperson told GreenState. “As federal law prohibits the importation and exportation of marijuana, crossing the international border or arriving at a U.S. port of entry with marijuana may result in seizure, fines, and/or arrest, and may impact admissibility.”

2. Transporting medical cannabis from one country to another while in the E.U. is doable, but you have to put in the work

Though the laws on cannabis transit to and from the U.S. are extremely rigid, things are ever-so-slightly more flexible for those already across the pond who want to bring cannabis to another country in the E.U.

Medical cannabis is legal in many European countries, so it’s possible to apply for a permit to bring medicinal cannabis into countries where it is legal once you are already in Europe.  You may be required to fill out additional paperwork prior to your visit, so, to be sure you cover all your bases, contact the embassy of the country you would like to visit to find out how to travel there legally with medical cannabis. A quick phone call or email response from them is all you need to ensure your vacation is not rudely interrupted with an accidental criminal offense.

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As you can probably imagine, this process is not an easy one. First, the type of cannabis you can use for medical purposes is severely restricted in most European countries. (Again, check with the country’s embassy to be sure you are bringing a type of cannabis that is approved for medical purposes in the country you are traveling to. Smokable cannabis flower is often not permitted.) Also, it can take weeks, possibly over a month, for a medical cannabis application to be processed, so you really can’t push this stuff off to the last minute. Finally, you should research the airline you’ll be using to travel from one country to the next, as every airline has their own policy on cannabis transportation.

Keep in mind that the laws on medical marijuana (who qualifies, what types of cannabis can be used, and what the penalty is for using it illegally) vary dramatically in Europe. The penalty for cannabis possession in Bulgaria is one to 10 years in prison along with a considerable fine, for example, while in the Netherlands, you’ll find legal cannabis sold in coffee shops.

It’s also important to note that the application for medical cannabis patients is different than the permit required for medical cannabis suppliers. If you wish to distribute medical marijuana in Europe, be sure to thoroughly research the permits required to sell medical marijuana in the E.U.

3. The safest option? Don’t risk it (Or check in, then buy)

At best, traveling Europe with cannabis is a headache. At worst, it’s a nightmare with some very serious and long-term consequences. Our advice? Don’t spoil a good vacation. Leave your cannabis at home and enjoy your travels sober. Some predict you may not have long to wait before European countries start legalizing cannabis.

If you have to travel with cannabis for medical reasons, the safest option is to buy your weed after arrival, not before. As previously stated, transporting cannabis from one country to another is a much more serious crime than possession, and applying to transport it legally is an arduous and time-consuming process. To avoid the risk, travel to cannabis-friendly countries during your visit to Europe, and get what you need upon arrival. Amsterdam and Barcelona are two cities particularly known for easy access to quality cannabis products.

Then, of course, you could always switch your travel plans to Canada.

Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to elli.esher@hearst.com.