The discovery of Los Angeles Airport's policy allowing
passengers to travel with legal marijuana made national headlines recently, but
it turns out LAX is not the only airport to adopt such a policy.
Seattle-Tacoma Airport also allows adult passengers to carry
marijuana in amounts at or under the state's legal limit, according to
spokesman Perry Cooper. And in Oregon, Portland Airport spokeswoman Kama
Simonds said the policy is to let passengers who are traveling within the state
carry their marijuana.
On the other hand, policies about traveling with pot in the
other six states that have legalized recreational use vary depending on state
and local laws and regulations. Officials advise passengers that they need to
know the rules and risks on both ends of their flight.
While domestically there has been generally little risk of
arrest of passengers caught violating bans on carrying cannabis products
through airports, travelers at airports other than Seattle and LAX should be
prepared to trash their stash in the event, however unlikely, that it is
flagged by the TSA.
And then there's our northern neighbor.
Traveling to and from Canada, which legalized marijuana
nationwide just last week, is a different and much riskier animal. Canadian
authorities say it remains illegal to carry marijuana across international
borders, even if you are traveling to one of the 31 U.S. states where it is
legal for medical and/or recreational use.
The TSA, which has no arresting authority, turns over any
incidents of marijuana found in baggage to local airport law enforcement. That
is not true of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which oversees law
enforcement at the borders and over international arrivals. It has full
arresting and enforcement authority over cross-border marijuana violations,
which fall squarely under federal jurisdiction.
Under federal law, marijuana is still a controlled
substance, like cocaine and heroin. Simple possession with no intent to
distribute is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a
minimum fine of $1,000.
Asked if CBP had plans to beef up enforcement or increase
the use of drug-sniffing dogs for flights coming in from Canada, agency
spokeswoman Stephanie Malin asserted, "Nothing will change at the U.S.
border, at airports or at preclearance locations" as a result of Canadian
Still, Mason Tvert, vice president of communications for VS
Strategies, which is affiliated with the Denver cannabis law firm of Vicente
Sederberg, said, "I would never recommend crossing an international border
with a product that is illegal in one of the countries."
As for domestic travel, both Denver Airport and Las Vegas
McCarran have made it illegal to carry marijuana on airport property, despite
state laws making adult use legal. McCarran also has installed "amnesty
boxes" in which passengers can dump pot products before coming through
Kelly Colling, deputy director of aviation operations at
Vermont's Burlington Airport, said that passengers found with legal amounts of
pot are asked to leave it in their car or give it to an adult to take off the
"If the passenger doesn't want to comply, then the
airline is notified," she said. "As far as I know, we haven't run
into any cases where a passenger has refused, but we don't track it."
Airport officials in Boston and Anchorage did not respond to
inquiries about their marijuana policies, and both Washington-area airports are
in Virginia, where recreational marijuana use remains illegal.
In Seattle and LAX, airport officials said, the policy is
simply to warn passengers that marijuana might be illegal in their destination
state, then let them pass.
The only nationwide constant in the process is TSA policy,
which requires officers to contact airport law enforcement if they find
marijuana in a passenger's baggage.
Agency spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said, "TSA's response
to the discovery of marijuana is the same in every state and at every airport,
regardless of whether marijuana has been or is going to be legalized. This also
covers medical marijuana."
Dankers, however, also emphasized that the TSA's "focus
is on terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers. As has
always been the case, if during the security screening process a TSA officer
discovers an item that may violate the law, the TSA refers the matter to law
enforcement. Law enforcement officials will determine whether to initiate a
criminal investigation or what steps, if any, will be taken."
The Denver Police Department, which has law enforcement
authority at the airport, has made 34 marijuana-related arrests since Colorado
in 2014 became the first state to legalize adult recreational use. The public
information office did not provide any details about those arrests beyond the
number, but it noted that "travelers bring marijuana and marijuana edibles
to the airport daily that are confiscated and submitted to be destroyed, where
there are no arrests."