How Risky Is Flying with Weed?

plane taking off at sunset from airport where you could get caught flying with weed

As cannabis becomes more readily accessible within the states, domestic airline travelers often wonder: Can you fly with weed? When it comes to flying with weed, there are a lot of conflicting laws and regulations at play. Under federal law, it's illegal to cross state or international borders with marijuana, but that doesn't mean everyone leaves their stash at home.

Currently, 32 states and DC allow medical cannabis use, confusing many travelers on their ability to transport their medicinal marijuana. In general, the Transportation Service Administration (TSA) security personnel are more focused on finding unauthorized weapons than a joint. A growing acceptance of cannabis has led to lax laws concerning flying with weed, but travelers should do their research before facing any possible legal repercussions.

Is Flying With Weed Common?

taking off shoes at airport security

According to a survey of 1,001 travelers who had smuggled a prohibited item onto an aircraft, 87.7 percent of them were able to sneak it onto the airplane for domestic flights. For international flights, 80.4 percent of travelers were able to hide their stash successfully. Per the survey, the most common prohibited item brought on board was cannabis or cannabis-infused products, followed by unauthorized prescription medication.

The survey's findings suggest that despite the federal prohibition of cannabis cultivation, possession, and use, domestic and international travelers are taking the risk of flying with weed in carry-on or checked luggage and on their person. 42.6 percent of respondents said that they brought weed on the plane "to avoid having to find/buy some at [their] destination." 34.7 percent of participants said they brought weed because "it was not recreationally legal."

Other reasons given were the inability to obtain medical marijuana at their destination and to reduce flying anxiety. Of the people that admitted to flying with weed, 42.9 percent of men and 25.7 percent of women were caught by TSA agents. According to the survey, the majority of people who didn't get caught brought edibles, flower, and oil products. Vape juice, liquids, and blunts were harder to sneak across.

Lastly, the survey found that most travelers hid their cannabis product in their checked bag and-carry on as opposed to the lesser common method inside clothes, shoes, or body. Keep in mind, the study relies on survey responses, which can be affected by poor memory recall and exaggeration.

Will TSA Find Your Weed?

security check sign at airport

The legality of flying with weed is obscured by differing policies of airports, local law enforcement, and federal law. While some airports are adopting relaxed regulations on medical cannabis, others may not. Overall, federal screenings performed by TSA security focus on finding terrorist and security threats to passengers and aircraft personnel. It's unlikely that TSA agents will intentionally look for flower buds, but they do have some authority.

If a TSA agent happens to come upon a traveler's marijuana stash in their carry-on or clothing, they are required to contact the airport's law enforcement division. It doesn't matter if a traveler is coming from or going to a cannabis-friendly destination. Federally, TSA does not allow medical marijuana in carry-on or checked bags, and that includes CBD products. Travelers that are caught are subject to regulations enforced by local law enforcement.

Cannabis-Friendly Airports

exterior of los angeles international airport at night, where flying with weed might be safe

As of now, nine states plus DC have full weed legalization, which means that residents can light up without a medical card. Airports within these recreational cannabis states have adopted a loose enforcement policy on passengers flying with weed. For example, the cannabis policy at Los Angeles Airport (LAX) is that anyone over 21 can carry under an ounce of cannabis flower or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis.

The policy indicates that "[Airport Police Division] officers, who are California Peace Officers, have no jurisdiction to arrest individuals if they are complying with state law." TSA screening stations, however, are under federal jurisdiction meaning that agents are supposed to alert law enforcement, which will not lead to arrests but may cause a delayed flight. California airports, as a whole, have policies supporting proposition 64, but not all of them.

Logan International Airport in Boston also has a similar policy as LAX. They allow travelers to have under an ounce of cannabis in the terminal. Airport passengers may be subjected to police screening involving checking for appropriate medical documentation and ensuring that the cannabis is under the allowed limit. Otherwise, flying with weed is relatively easy.

In Oregon, travelers are allowed to carry marijuana on flights within the state. Other cannabis friendly airports are the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. In Canada, adults may fly with up to 30 grams of weed in their carry on or checked luggage. Travelers should note that the legal age of possession varies by province, so it's important to always check the destination's policy on cannabis.

What Are Amnesty Boxes?

lots of jars of marijuana

Airports that aren't fully on-board with travelers that want to fly with cannabis are installing "amnesty boxes," which are sites where passengers can drop off any cannabis product. Amnesty boxes are usually placed in passenger drop-off or airport car rental areas. In Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, there are 20 amnesty sites. The boxes are meant to keep travelers in line with federal law, but some people say they may not even be needed since law enforcement rarely arrests travelers with small amounts of cannabis.

How Travelers Are Flying with Weed

passenger taking liquids out at security at the airport

Most news stories on travelers arrested for cannabis trafficking involve multiple checked bags full of bud. Plenty of people that carry small amounts of cannabis have been able to carry it to their destination. Cannabis flower is difficult to fly with due to its pungent smell. Passengers may be subjected to random searches on their checked luggage. An eighth of premium bud might be detected and likely disposed of without an arrest.

TSA agents will be more suspicious of a peanut butter jar or hair care product container stuffed with weed, so those methods may set off alarms. Security may perform an additional screening if a traveler is carrying a cannabis drink or liquid over 3.5 ounces. Even modified vape pens may prompt a search. TSA scanners focus on finding knives and firearms, but cannabis can also be detected.

Many travelers have gotten away with hiding their cannabis in plain sight. From joints in cigarette packs to edibles disguised to look like a regular food product, travelers have used their ingenuity and creativity to transport their marijuana. Flower, and sometimes edibles, have made their way onto airplanes in airtight and smell-proof containers.

How Risky Is Flying with Weed?

marijuana flower up close

At Denver International Airport, the number of marijuana items seized has gone from 115 in 2017 to 635 in 2018. Denver Airport's policy requires law enforcement to confiscate and discard any marijuana product found. Domestically, getting caught with small amounts of cannabis will not lead to arrest, but will lead to a loss of precious marijuana. While some airports may be lenient toward cannabis possession, federal airspace is under federal law.

Travelers should contact local airport police divisions to learn more about their marijuana policy. At most, travelers will need a medical marijuana recommendation to earn the state's cannabis access benefits. For example, a person caught with weed in Texas can get arrested and fined. For those wondering "can you fly with weed internationally?" the answer is, not likely. Flying with weed internationally is extremely risky and not recommended; international laws could lead to many years in prison if a passenger is caught.

The risk of getting caught is greater when travelers choose to consume cannabis right before getting on their flight. Airlines can deny service to a passenger that appears to be under the influence. Travelers can feel especially overwhelmed if they are consuming edibles on a plane for the first time.

Travelers should consider the policy on flying with weed in every state and country they visit. As cannabis legalization continues to become the norm, and the stigma of cannabis is removed, flying with weed will become as normal as flying with cigarettes or small bottles of alcohol. Flying with weed still remains a risky endeavor, which can affect a large amount of cannabis consumers, but people will continue to do it despite the potential consequences.