Earlier this week a Southwest Airlines flight from San Fran to Los Angeles was diverted in midflight and grounded at the San Jose Mineta International Airport, just 50 miles south of San Francisco, after passengers and flight crew reported smelling smoke – weed smoke – coming from the restroom onboard.
Sure enough, some dude decided that just minutes into the hour and a half flight he would re-define the Mile High Club and allegedly spark up a joint or a blunt at 30,000 feet.
As you might imagine, it didn’t end well for him and it probably also sucked for the other 32 passengers whose schedules for the day were wrecked by his recklessness.
So it got us thinking maybe we should kick out a quick guide to flying with cannabis so you don’t end up like that guy.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the newest of all cabinet-level departments of our federal government, being formed in November 2001 in the wake of 9/11. Though it is a federal agency, and that usually does not mix well with weed, sniffing out cannabis is not their job and is certainly not something that they focus on.
Common sense should apply here though – there is a difference between a reasonable personal amount of meds for a trip and a suitcase full of hash and cash… although both can make it through security if your story checks out.
It might be your medical marijuana recommendation that satisfies a particularly nosy TSA agent. Or perhaps you are on a flight from LAX to San Fran to enter and vend at an event like the High Times Cannabis Cup coming up this weekend in Santa Rosa – being honest and upfront with TSA will almost always get you past the checkpoint and on your way.
We say “almost always” because there are obviously cases where a weed-hating TSA agent who woke up on the wrong side of the bed decides to flex on someone trying to fly with weed, but here’s the deal… TSA really has no authority. If they are truly alerted, they will get local law enforcement involved, and that local law enforcement will enforce local laws. So knowing those laws, and your rights within them is important.
Yes, the TSA is a federal agency but they don’t immediately call the FBI or CIA or Homeland Security over a bag of weed.
However, some airports have their own separate rules when it comes to cannabis possession.
For example, despite the lax weed laws in Colorado, Denver International Airport has banned all possession of weed and they will take it from you and trash it if they find it. Better than a fine, or a ticket, or jail time, but still a buzzkill!
Similarly in Portland, where local laws favor cannabis but the airport will kick you out of security, make you dispose of your weed, then get back in line.
If you are in doubt, call the departure airport well before your trip and get ahold of the TSA office. Speak to someone anonymously and let them know your intent and ask for their advice. Yes, you will likely get a bit of a guilt-trip about it being federally illegal but in some rare cases, with this prior contact, they will pre-approve your request and offer to let you through a separate security checkpoint on the day of your flight which can actually save you a bunch of time and anxiety.
ALWAYS CARRY ON
So we discussed how TSA operates, and how they are really nothing to fear if your worst offense is some cannabis. And that is precisely why you should always carry-on your cannabis.
We realize that the x-ray scanners and shoeless pat-downs are intimidating, but again, they are looking for bombs, guns, blades – actual threats to the security of the airport and its flights – not your kush. The odds of your carry-on bag(s) getting singled out and searched are slim to none as long as you are not carrying some other banned item like a lighter or torch along with it.
On the other hand, the list of reasons that TSA refers to when searching checked luggage is much longer and they have more time to do so behind the scenes – it’s such a horrible feeling to open that suitcase and see the dreaded “NOTICE OF BAG INSPECTION” paperwork then discover your stash has vanished.
For many reasons, the riskiest way to travel with weed is an international flight but the same rules as above still apply.
You’ll still deal with the same domestic TSA rules and behaviors when boarding your flight; it’s when you land that you have to take extra precautions.
When dealing with the potential of customs checks and crossing multiple borders on a single trip, it is crucial that you do the homework beforehand to determine if that inherent risk will outweigh the rewards.
The catch-22 is that the scariest places to fly to with weed are usually the hardest places to find some once you arrive. So if smoking/vaping/eating cannabis is an essential part of a proper vacation for you, taking local laws into consideration is a must.
The truth is, it is really easier than ever to fly with a reasonable amount of weed.
“Personal use” is a difficult thing to define or justify but it is your best defense when confronted by TSA, so packing your carry-on bag accordingly will up your odds of success.
Just be absolutely sure that – aside from the cannabis – there is nothing in your carry-on bag that can possibly raise any red flags and 99% of the time you’ll slide right through. On the rare occasion that you do get pulled aside, know the laws, know your rights, be calm and respectful and you’ll likely be on your way soon enough.
Oh, and don’t light up on the plane, but you knew that right?
DISCLAIMER: We are not Beard Bros. Law Phirm, so take this friendly advice as just that and be sure to do your own due diligence, know your rights, know the laws, and know that you always travel with weed at your own risk