As of March 2022, 37 states and 4 territories had legalized medicinal cannabis while 18 had legalized recreational marijuana. With this, one would be forgiven for assuming that it is perfectly okay to gallivant between states carrying your cannabis with you. This is hardly the case as state laws on marijuana differ from federal laws. Failure to understand this difference could land you in big trouble with the federal police.
What Does the Federal Law Say About Marijuana?
The federal government classifies marijuana, including medical marijuana aka cannabis, under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This class of compounds is considered to have no known medicinal value and additionally, they have a high potential for abuse. Some examples of drugs in this classification are Heroin, LSD, MDNA /Ecstasy, Methaqualone, Peyote and would you believe…Cannabis.
Consequently, Schedule I compounds are illegal under federal law, marijuana included. This creates a conflict between state laws and federal law.
Moving across state lines with cannabis (driving, flying and even mailing) is considered federally illegal and amounts to drug trafficking which could attract hefty penalties. First offenders can be imprisoned for up to five years and be charged a fine of up to $25,000 for trafficking a controlled substance. The greater the amount of cannabis that you are found with while crossing these lines the steeper the penalty. Marijuana activists are pushing for an amendment for federal laws to deschedule cannabis altogether.
The TSA and Marijuana
When the TSA is searching through your luggage at the airport they may not necessarily be looking for marijuana, most likely they are likely to be more concerned about potential hazards that may endanger the lives of other passengers such as explosives, guns, knives, etc. However, should they come across some marijuana you will not be exempted from blame? In fact, in most cases TSA officers will be quite eager to turn you over to the law enforcement officers to face due consequences.
What happens to you after you have been surrendered to the law enforcement officers will vary from state to state. States that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use are likely to be more lenient with you. All that you may be required to do is to present your medical marijuana card if you have one, and hopefully you will be set free. However, some airlines such as Delta and American Airlines restrict the transportation of marijuana in their planes, even in states where marijuana is legal.
Some airports have “amnesty boxes” where marijuana users can dispose of any cannabis in their possession before they are screened. This is the case in the Denver, Colorado airport. If questionable, make use of the amnesty boxes whenever you need to.
Flying With Marijuana and CBD
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) permits flying with FDA-approved cannabis products (for example Epidiolex) as well as hemp-derived CBD approved products in accordance with the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which is otherwise called the 2018 Farm Bill. Cannabis products covered by the agricultural improvement act must contain less than 0.3% THC. Flying with cannabis products that exceed this THC threshold could also land you in trouble with federal law enforcement agents.
The TSA’s screening procedures are centered on recognizing security dangers to flight and travelers. While TSA security officers don’t necessarily look for cannabis or illegal drugs, they are needed to report the disclosure of such substances to law enforcement. As mentioned above, some notable air terminals have cannabis “amnesty boxes” where patients can discard any cannabis in their possession prior to boarding their flights. Without even a trace of such amnesty boxes, patients might wish to prudently discard any leftover cannabis in a garbage bin prior to going through security screening.
A few airlines, including Delta and American, have made explicit strategies forbidding the transportation of cannabis on their airplanes while recognizing that a growing number of states have sanctioned cannabis for medicinal or recreational use. Patients might wish to really take a look at their aircrafts’ baggage policies, especially regarding the transportation of cannabis.
So, Can I Fly With Cannabis?
No. Here’s the reason.
Cannabis is illegal under federal law, and federal law oversees air travel in the U.S.
The airport you’ll go through is viewed as a federal territory; consequently, federal laws apply to all airports. Regardless of whether your state permits cannabis, going through the airport with cannabis is illegal. It also doesn’t matter if you are flying between states that have legalized cannabis, for medicinal or recreational use. Understanding this will prevent you from getting into trouble with law enforcement.
Can You Fly With CBD?
It is now legal to fly with cannabidiol (CBD) for as long as it is hemp-derived and does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that exceeds 0.3%. You can comfortably carry your CBD in your checked or your carry-on luggage as you board your flight. Make sure labels are still intact, that show what the product is and % of THC or other cannabinoids. Learn more: Flying with Marijuana.
Can You Fly on Commercial Airlines with Medical cannabis?
Cannabis products that contain less than 0.3% THC are legal federally. Therefore, you can bring along your CBD on a commercial airplane without any fear. However, this does not apply to cannabis products that exceed the 0.3% THC threshold. While TSA agents will not come out searching for cannabis or other illegal drugs in your luggage, should they suspect that you are carrying cannabis illegally they will engage law enforcement agents.
The Answer According to Federal Law
According to federal law, the answer is no – you may NEVER fly on a commercial airliner with cannabis or cannabis-containing products, even if you have a doctor’s written recommendation for medical cannabis or a medical cannabis card (MMIC). It does not matter if you are flying within the state, out of state, or out of the country, the answer from them is always no.
Airports, airspace, and airplanes all fall under federal jurisdiction, and cannabis, medical or otherwise, is considered illegal under federal law. Therefore, technically, if you choose to travel by plane with medical cannabis, you risk being detained, arrested, and prosecuted under federal law even if the state you are departing from allows you to possess and use cannabis legally.
Under federal law, possession of cannabis is punishable by up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. For each subsequent conviction, the sentences and penalties increase.
But in the same breath, the TSA has also issued a statement on their site concerning cannabis and cannabis products which kind of shows a grey area. You can read more here on the TSA’s official site.
To be safe, our recommendation would be to not fly with it. Many patients, depending on the state they may be visiting, will purchase their cannabis products legally upon their arrival.
The Answer According to State Law
Whether or not you can fly within different areas of a single state with medical cannabis depends on the state in which you are traveling.
See this map of cannabis laws per state.
If you Must, Quick Tips for Flying with Medical Cannabis
- Make sure you always have your medical cannabis card when you travel
- Carry a sufficient amount to last for the duration of your trip
- Learn the specific cannabis laws that apply at your travel destinations
- Do not travel with a cannabis plant
- Do not use cannabis in public spaces or other outlawed places
- Memorize your physician’s and lawyer’s phone numbers or write them down and keep them with your current medical cannabis ID card and/or doctor’s recommendation
- Contact dispensaries in the destination state(s) prior to travel to determine if you will find appropriate cultivars and cannabis products for your condition
Currently, 37 states and 4 territories have some form of access to medical cannabis, 18 states and the District of Columbia have permitted recreational cannabis, but the rights they extend to medical cannabis cases vary among them. As a result, there are increasingly more people traveling for leisure or work who would like to know if they can fly with their medicine (cannabis).
United Patients Group created this mini-guide to answer all the questions around this topic, and to equip medical cannabis patients with all the information they need regarding flying with cannabis in and out of the U.S.
Know Before You Go
Before traveling, it’s important for patients to review the most current cannabis information for the state(s) they will be visiting, as laws and regulations are subject to change. It’s also important to remember that cannabis products cannot be ‘legally’ taken out of the state in which they were purchased/obtained.
Cannabis laws will vary from one state to another but no matter what state patients live in, possession of medical cannabis is illegal under federal law since cannabis is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. Several states have a legal medical cannabis program that offers some form of reciprocity to visiting medical cannabis patients. This means they grant equal rights and privileges to medical cannabis patients visiting their state, similar to what the patient is offered in their home state.
Traveling across state lines with any amount of cannabis is considered a crime. The person may be charged with drug trafficking. It doesn’t matter if both states have a legal medical cannabis program and/or they are neighboring (i.e. California and Oregon). It also should be noted that several states in which cannabis is legal have explicitly outlawed the importation and/or exportation of cannabis across their borders.
While the probability of arrest by federal law enforcement officers may be low, the penalties are severe. At a minimum, individuals charged with the trafficking of cannabis face up to 10 years imprisonment followed by five-years supervised follow-up. Historically, these penalties have been reserved for high-volume distributors of cannabis, not medical patients.
Since the interstate transport of cannabis remains a federal crime, it’s important to be aware of the implicit consequences, what is allowed or disallowed as it relates to cannabis possession and use when traveling out of state.
A medical cannabis patient who has been stopped by federal authorities carrying out security screening should never authorize them to conduct a search on his/her personal possession. It is important to loudly and clearly state, “I do not assent to a search.” This may not stop the officers from conducting the security screening, but if the search turns out to be illegal, any substantiation arising from it may be inadmissible in court. However, any substantiation it uncovers would be permissible if the search was consensual.
While patients should not consent to a search, they also shouldn’t physically resist officers in any way, even when the search is illegal. In resisting the search, the medical cannabis patient may be charged with resisting arrest or assaulting federal authorities. All that the patient needs to do is to continue to state, “I do not assent to this search” loudly enough for the federal authorities and all that is nearby to hear.
Using a Retail Dispensary When You Travel
Medical cannabis patients traveling to states that permit the adult-use (21 and older) of cannabis but don’t extend reciprocity to non-resident patients may have to purchase cannabis from an adult-use dispensary. Find out whether the state you are visiting has reciprocity laws or whether you have the option to purchase medical cannabis from an adult-use dispensary. Note that the prices in adult-use dispensaries might be significantly higher as compared to medical cannabis due to state taxes. The quality of cannabis-infused products is also an important consideration to make. Product safety testing and labeling requirements vary from state to state, and one state may have different testing requirements for adult-use and medical cannabis products.
Differentiate Between High and Low THC Cannabis
Low-THC cannabis contains less than 0.3% of THC and more than 10% of CBD. In most cases, Low THC cannabis does not trigger euphoria. Most states permit the consumption of low THC cannabis.
What To Do if You Have Cannabis at the Airport
This will depend on several factors. Some airports such as LAX and O’Hare allow passengers to travel with cannabis within their state for as long as it does not exceed the legal possession limits (an ounce). If your airport does not allow passengers to travel with cannabis you should dispose of it in the amnesty boxes if they are present, or in trash cans.
I know this sounds confusing or contradicts what is mentioned above. Enforcement could be hit or miss with the TSA agent or airport security you are interacting with. We have had patients call the airports and airlines prior to departure to ask, “Can I legally travel with my cannabis medicine?”
What Happens if a TSA Officer Finds Cannabis in Your Luggage?
The TSA website stipulates that medical cannabis can be carried in both carry-on and checked bags. TSA security officers do not go out in search of cannabis or other illicit drugs. Their responsibility is to ensure the safety of travelers and hence they check for any compound that may jeopardize safety. However, the transportation security administration is a federal agency, therefore its officers must enforce federal laws. If TSA security officers come across cannabis when conducting a luggage search, the officer is obligated to immediately report it to law enforcement.
What About Medicinal Cannabis Patients?
States that have legalized medicinal cannabis have enacted laws to protect their patients. These laws will vary from one state to another, this has been detailed later in this article. Some states have reciprocity laws (medical marijuana laws) that offer some form of protection to medical cannabis patients traveling from states that have a legal medical marijuana program. Some states prohibit the importation or exportation of cannabis, even when they have a legal medical marijuana program. This makes it important to understand the state’s laws regarding cannabis use. That said, medical cannabis will remain illegal under federal law, and crossing state lines with medical marijuana amounts to a federal crime.
The Rights of the Patient
The first right is to of course understand the federal law and laws that apply in your state and in the state that you are traveling to. While some states will be lenient with you if you are found with cannabis at the airport, law enforcement in some states will institute harsh penalties on you. Understanding the marijuana laws that apply when you cross state lines will keep you in good books with the authorities.
In case you have been stopped by a law enforcement officer or TSA agents and they have asked to search your car (if driving across stateline, or borders) or personal belongings when crossing state lines, declare that you do not consent to the search. This may not deter the police from conducting the search anyway.
How will it help?
If the search is illegal, then the evidence produced will not be admissible in court. On the other hand, if the search is illegal but was consented to, the evidence produced will be admissible in court.
However, you should not attempt to resist the search physically as you may face charges for physical assault against the agents or TSA security officer. You may also end up getting hurt in the process.
Traveling With Medical Marijuana on Trains and Automobiles
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows the medical cannabis patient to travel with FDA-approved cannabis products such as Epidiolex and CBD products manufactured pursuant to the 2018 Farm Bill.
Borders between states and interstate highways are under federal jurisdiction and therefore consider marijuana to be illegal. TSA’s screening procedures at state lines are geared towards detecting security threats to passengers. However, some states will institute drug trafficking charges against you for traveling with marijuana or other illegal drugs across state lines.
Amtrak bans the transportation of any form of marijuana on their trains. Uber prohibits the use of their app to “commit any crime, such as transporting drugs.” Some ride-sharing drivers may not want the smell of marijuana in their cars as this may affect their business since the cars do not belong to the ride-share app company.
As a medical cannabis patient, you should never drive under the influence of marijuana. If you have to transport marijuana in your car, make sure that it is stored in a properly sealed container that should be kept in the trunk of your car. Find out the laws on traveling with cannabis in your car and adhere to them. Lastly, make sure that you obey all the basic rules of the road to avoid attracting unnecessary attention from law enforcement officers.
Traveling With Marijuana Internationally
It is illegal to travel with marijuana, medical or recreational, outside the U.S. This is regardless of whether you are traveling to a country that has legalized marijuana, such as Canada, or not. The same laws that apply to interstate travel also apply to international travel: you will be contravening federal laws. You can be arrested and charged with drug trafficking if TSA security officers find that you are traveling with marijuana on an international flight. It is worse if you are traveling to countries that have very harsh anti-drug laws. Internationally penalties can be very harsh, which could leave you in a heap of trouble, depending on the amount and country.
Some Asian country’s penalties = death.
This refers to laws that have been created to offer some level of protection to medicinal cannabis patients that are traveling from a different state. This is very important for a medicinal cannabis patient who is wishing to travel to states other than their home states. Qualified patients must carry their medical marijuana cards to prove that they are bonafide medical marijuana patients in their respective states.
Increasingly more states have extended reciprocity to medical cannabis patients visiting their states to allow them to access their medicine freely. However, the extent of reciprocity will vary from one state to another with some states offering basic rights and others offering full rights as resident patients.
It is critical to understand the marijuana laws of the state that you are traveling to. This includes authorizations for out-of-state marijuana as well as the state-to-state reciprocity laws. Below is a breakdown of these laws, state by state. Please note, state laws could change without notice, so please check the Department of Health’s website for the state you may be visiting. Sometimes, it may be easier to purchase in the state you’ll be visiting if it is a legal recreational approved state, 21 and over aka Adult Use.