Flying with Cannabis: Carry-on Bag or Checked Luggage?

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Can you? Should you? May you? Here’s hoping you know what you need to when it comes to flying with cannabis.

Cannabis remains an illegal substance by Federal regulation. That makes it illegal to transport through a federal checkpoint. Anything you carry is subject to search and seizure, and prosecution could follow. But, the skies may be friendlier than you think.

The role of the TSA

The presence of the TSA (Transportation Security Agency) is meant to stop and deter threats to person, property, and homeland security. But, given all they must do, especially under the pressure of high-volume airports, they don’t have the budget, personnel, or time to focus on cannabis.

They and their dogs and focus on drugs, bombs, and weapons. But, they may very well stop and search you if they have a reasonable cause or suspicion.

The TSA officers do not arrest. But, because airports are the property of the local government or authority, they will call on the local police to handle your situation. Specifically, TSA.gov says,

“Possession of marijuana and cannabis-infused products, such as Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, is illegal under federal law. TSA officers are required to report any suspected violations of law, including possession of marijuana and cannabis-infused products. TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but in the event a substance that appears to be marijuana or a cannabis-infused product is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”

This applies to use of carry-on bags or checked luggage.

The role of the local police

The local police rarely arrest and prosecute passengers stopped and referred by the TSA. If the passenger is cooperative and not clearly under the influence, the police are likely to give you a choice to trash your stash.

Where medical cannabis and recreational-use cannabis are legal, the local police may permit you to carry the legal limit. So, if you have a modest amount of cannabis in your carry-on bag, you are prepared to give it up if, indeed, they stop you.

For example:

  • Experience shows that if you board in San Francisco, the police will okay possession of one ounce. But, they will allow up to 8 ounces of medical cannabis.
  • In Oregon, you can carry the legal limit if you are flying from one Oregon airport to another Oregon airport.
  • At Denver airport, on the other hand, they will require you to trash your stuff wherever you are going.

If the TSA has reason to check your carry-on or person, they will refer you to nearby police officers. Depending on the situation you present, they may make a light search and recommend you throw the product in the trash or their lockbox. If you are loud, aggressive, or disrespectful, they may arrest you or prohibit your boarding flight.

Checked Bags

Your checked bags are more likely to be opened and investigated. TSA agents reserve the right to x-ray and open your checked luggage in your presence or not. They will remove items they consider suspicious.

They give priority to all those things that present a threat to people and the plane. But, they also search for smuggled drugs, especially where discovered in bulk. However, they know what cannabis looks like and are aware of the typical ploys to hide it. While they may refer the product to police, if it a small amount, they are just as likely to leave a notice that the product was removed on a physical search.

Carry-on Bags

The size limits vary slightly among different airlines, but United Airlines defines “carry-on bag” saying, “The maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels.”

These are those rectangular bags that everyone pulls through airports on wheels with a telescoping handle. As the price of checked luggage has increased, more and more passengers use the carry-on bags to avoid the check-in. And, some plane fares now prohibit such bags in economy class.

In addition to such bags, passengers are permitted a “personal item.” For most, that is a backpack, purse, or laptop. In either case, it should fit under the seat in front of you at 9” x 10” x 17.  Yet, people carry diaper bags, durable medical equipment, umbrellas, and more at the discretion of the gate personnel.

With carry-on luggage, you benefit from the pressure at the security check through. Anyone who flies knows how hectic and rushed things are through security. So, if you retain your cool and are not a walking sign for trouble, you should not invite heavy security.

  • Your person is subject to search, so it’s not prudent to carry in your pockets, and if you have smoked on the way into the airport, you will smell.
  • Your carry-on will be x-rayed, so pack your product carefully and discretely. You can seclude a small amount of cannabis in medical containers or sealed in any number of the smell proof bags, airtight canisters, and smell proof cases such as you would use for cigars.
  • You don’t want to pack the cannabis in any container that would draw attention to itself like bottles or glass containers.
  • You can place a small amount of product or edibles among your carry-on snacks along with the trail-mix or chips.

It’s worth investing a few dollars in traveling items specifically designed for the purpose. Most will simply pass a first inspection appearing to be toiletries, makeup, or medications. But, the key thing is to avoid leakage of pungent odors.

Flying with cannabis

Can you? Should you? May you? Yes, you can fly with cannabis in your baggage. Millions do it every day. But, you do so at your own risk of being stopped, searched, possibly arrested and missing your flight.

Should you? If you are flying to locations where cannabis is legal, you can buy it there and save yourself the trouble. If it is a medical necessity, then you should have enough to last your trip, but the larger the supply the higher your risk. You should carry your medical marijuana card as a precaution, but TSA has no obligation to honor it.

May you? No, you may not. Interstate and intercontinental flight may take you to locations where cannabis is illegal and even severely punishable. It is currently illegal to pass a federal checkpoint, such as those in airports, in possession of cannabis.

Conclusion? You should use your head. You can use or consume an edible before the flight if it reduces your stress. You can’t smoke on the plane under any circumstances, so you must get your head around the fact you will have to wait up to 10 hours without a hit. You may have a problem if you cannot make it through the day.