Traveling With Weed: What You Need to Know

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More U.S. states are legalizing marijuana, but on the federal level, it's still illegal, so flying with pot is a sticky topic.

The news headlines came fast and furiously at the end of September, most of which communicated the simple message: now, if you’re over 21, you can pack pot in your carry-on when flying from Los Angeles International Airport, with the allowance being 28.5 grams of marijuana and eight grams of concentrated pot for personal use. 

California laws are not the same as federal laws

But there’s actually much more to it than that, so don’t be so quick to stash joints in with your shampoo. Here’s the bottom line: since the passage of the Adult Use Marijuana Act on January 1, 2018, recreational pot is legal in California. LAX is in California, so go on and bring it into the airport. But the fact remains that TSA agents are federal employees and pot is still illegal at the federal level, so if they spot any as your bag is going through the scanner, they can call on local police and let them decide what to do.

In January, when the Act went into effect, a statement posted on flylax.com, the airport’s official website, read: "Passengers should be aware that marijuana laws vary state by state and they are encouraged to check the laws of the states in which they plan to travel." Transporting marijuana across state lines, whether by plane, train, or car, is illegal, plain and simple. Planes in American airspace are also subject to federal law, so fines may still be a consequence, regardless of whether California authorities prosecute. 

What happens--or doesn't--if TSA spots pot in your carry-on

“It doesn’t matter what airport you’re leaving from. Once you step through TSA, you’re under their jurisdiction and at the mercy of federal law,” said Daniel Vinkovetsky (pseudonym: Danny Danko), senior cultivation editor at High Times, the leading authority on cannabis since it launched as a counter culture publication more than 40 years ago. “It’s misleading to say you can bring weed through the airport. Yes, you can bring it to LAX, but no, you can’t travel with it. If TSA agents see a jar of weed, they might pretend they didn’t because if they do, they’ll have to stop everything and hold up the security line.” And nobody wants to be responsible for an angry mob of anxious passengers.

Vinkovetsky noted that law enforcement will, more likely than not, decline to prosecute, so most of the time if they do spot the pot, the end result is simply embarrassment and, of course, getting your pot confiscated. Or worst case scenario: you get held up and miss your flight. 

“Agents aren’t happy because it’s just a waste of their time,” he said. “They’re concerned about so much more, like finding bombs and knives and other security risks. Pot isn’t a security risk, so it’s not a major priority.” He added that he'll be keeping a careful eye on what happens with international and domestic travel in Canada when weed goes legal nationwide on October 17.

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