An In-Depth Look At The TSA’s Confusing Stance On Cannabis

An In-Depth Look At The TSA's Confusing Stance On Cannabis
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Contributor: KC Scannell

We truly live in an amazing time. Just a handful of years ago, marijuana was vehemently prohibited. It was deemed illegal in every sense of the word. The cannabis community, and its many peace-seeking members, were effectively judged harshly by society. The insurmountable negative stigma attached to marijuana was a constant thing that we, cannabis enthusiasts, had to deal with on a daily basis. And that’s only if you felt comfortable enough to share with society your relationship with marijuana in the first place. That, in itself, used to be super risky.

TSA & Marijuana: One Complicated Relationship

But, those days of unjust criticism and harsh criminal punishment surrounding cannabis are fading, and they’re fading fast. Early on in the days of legalization, it was strictly for medicinal purposes, and only a select few states allowed their residents the opportunity to get an official recommendation from their physician, essentially allowing them to partake in cannabis legally.

Soon after, the use of recreational cannabis became legal, and the number of states who allow their citizens to freely buy, use, and grow their own marijuana continues to skyrocket with each election.

In short, marijuana is on the fast-track to becoming decriminalized and legal from coast to coast. Which, if I can be honest, was something that I thought I’d never see in my lifetime. Yet, here we are, on the verge of a nationwide acceptance of any and all things cannabis. It really is a sight to behold.

Even if you are lucky enough to live in a state where recreational cannabis is legally allowed, it’s fun to hit up the other regions of the country where it’s just as accepted. It’s always interesting to see how other states present their bud. As a lifelong cannabis enthusiast, it’s akin to wine-lovers visiting different vineyards across the globe.

But, in order to get to these various states, you’ll need to travel. And, as I’m sure you already know, the number one most preferred form of travel is flying. However, this raises a bit of an issue. Sure, you’ll land in these places, have a great marijuana-infused time, but you won’t be able to bring any back home with you, even if you are flying to a fully legalized state.

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Which, needless to say, is a tremendous bummer. But, hey, it is what it is, right?

Well, maybe not. Perhaps, travelers can be allowed to take some of their newly purchased buds along with them, but the TSA has delivered nothing but mixed signals on the matter, much like the federal government. And that’s likely due to the TSA being a federal agency. Basically, if the feds feel one way about marijuana, TSA agents are supposed to echo that passion, and fully penalize folks for possessing bud.

But, not all airports do, however.

In fact, many of them have outright stated that they aren’t going out of their way to look for cannabis of any kind. Their main priority is to keep things safe, so anything suspicious that could be dangerous or lethal is what they are searching for – not harmless bud. But, again, it’s truly hard to tell what the TSA’s official stance is on the matter.

However, before I continue onward, it should be noted that we are, in no way, encouraging anyone to travel with cannabis illegally. If it’s against the law, it’s against the law – regardless of how much you may disagree with it.

So, by no means, take this as a verbal enticement to fly with cannabis.

That said, we are more than aware that accidents happen, especially if you just spent an entire vacation hitting up a litany of different dispensaries. Buds can be forgotten in jacket pockets or pants that, subsequently, get packed into carry-ons, only to be revealed at the security checkpoint at the airport. That sort of lapse in judgment is completely normal, and likely happens hundreds of times a day, given how many states now fully allow recreational cannabis to be bought and sold within their borders.

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Recently, on Instagram, the official account for the TSA posted a rather cryptic message that had the cannabis community scratching its head in hopes of deciphering its true meaning.

Specifically, the account posted a photo of a marijuana plant, along with the following caption:

“Are we cool? We like to think we’re cool. We want you to have a pleasant experience at the airport and arrive safely at your destination. But getting caught while trying to fly with marijuana or cannabis-infused products can really harsh your mellow. Let us be blunt: TSA officers DO NOT search for marijuana or other illegal drugs. Our screening procedures are focused on security and detecting potential threats. But in the event a substance appears to be marijuana or a cannabis-infused product, we’re required by federal law to notify law enforcement. This includes items that are used for medicinal purposes.”

Hmm. So, they aren’t looking for it, but if they see something that looks like it, you’ll get busted? Is that what they’re saying? A bit confusing, right? Also, don’t they literally look at everyone’s bag? If I had bud in my bag, at all, they’d see it, and in turn, that means they are, in fact, looking for marijuana.

So, at the end of the day, this message is still pretty confusing.

Also, should they want to contact local law enforcement, they then have the choice to either penalize the traveler or simply have them hand over the product(s) and be on their way. Usually, if they have a legal amount, the cops just let them go with a warning or a small fine. But, should they exceed that amount, well, that’d be illegal even if they weren’t at the airport, so they have no choice but to proceed with their punishments at that point.

An attorney in Boston, David Bannard, expressed a similar level of confusion in regard to this Instagram post.

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Bannard said, “There are all kinds of mixed messages being sent, but that’s because we have mixed messages in the legal system.” Adding, “We’ve got such a conflict right now between states that have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use and the federal requirements that continue to make it a Schedule I controlled substance.”

The rules of enforcement seem to change from airport to airport. In Vegas, for instance, they have little “amnesty boxes” for unknowing travelers to dispose of their “illegal” goods before passing through security. But, if they are caught in the checkpoint line with marijuana, the TSA will proceed to contact the authorities, then it’s business as usual.

At LAX, however, things are a bit different. In an official statement from the airport on the matter, they said that local police will not arrest travelers who possess the legal limit. The same goes for the popular Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Portland International, and Denver International.

But, Boston’s Logan Airport isn’t as cut and dry.

Bannard, when asked to comment on Logan’s wishy-washy approach towards traveling with cannabis, said, “Logan decided to basically not take a position on the matter. There are no amnesty boxes and there’s no prohibition. I think they’re really hoping Congress will pass a law so that they, frankly, don’t have to deal with it.”

I suppose the main takeaway here is to try your best not to fly with weed. There’s no way for anyone to be certain if they’ll get in trouble for it or not. But, just like Logan Airport, we’re hoping the government can pass a law allowing folks to travel with cannabis soon. But, I suppose only time will tell.


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