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27 December 2013

How to (not) fly with marijuana

In this second article about the upcoming changes in marijuana laws in the states of Washington and Colorado, we answer basic questions about how to fly with marijuana. Starting in 2014, any adult age 21 and over will be able to legally buy and possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, but this freedom is limited.

While these two states have changed their laws, the federal laws on the possession and use of marijuana have not changed. However, the federal government is allowing individual states the freedom to allow certain kinds of marijuana possession and use within the borders of those states.

Because federal law prohibits the transportation of marijuana (cannabis) by air, the answer to most of these questions is some variation of no, but for some passengers, saying no is not enough. Below are some detailed explanations behind each question, starting with yes answers.

The following questions are related to airports located in the states of Washington and Colorado, where both recreational and medicinal marijuana will be legal starting in 2014.

Can I bring marijuana to the airport? - That depends on what part of the airport. The secure parts of the airport, including the terminal areas beyond the TSA checkpoints, are under federal control, and federal law prohibits the possession of marijuana in these parts of the airport.

Can I bring marijuana on the plane? - No. You are not allowed to bring marijuana on the plane. In fact, you are not even allowed to bring marijuana past the TSA security screening checkpoints.

Can I put marijuana in a checked bag? - No. You are not allowed to bring marijuana on the plane either in checked or carry on luggage.

Can I mail or ship my marijuana before I get on the plane? - No. Federal law prohibits sending marijuana through the mail or through shipping services like FedEx and UPS.

Can I fly after consuming marijuana? - Yes, but it may not be a good idea. While federal law doesn't prohibit passengers from flying under the influence of drugs, if you are intoxicated, you may be prevented from boarding your aircraft. Also, if you somehow get on the aircraft and are intoxicated, you may not be able to react appropriately in emergency situations, and your behavior may be affected in a way that makes you a hazard to crew members and other passengers.

Can I use marijuana at the airport? - It depends on the situation. Outside of the secure areas of the terminal, state laws determine if you can consume marijuana. In both Colorado and Washington, public consumption of marijuana is illegal, so consumption out of public view would be legal.

Can I smoke marijuana in a designated airport smoking area? - No. These smoking areas are public areas for smoking of tobacco products, not marijuana, so the state laws of both Colorado and Washington would not allow you to smoke marijuana in these areas.

Can I consume marijuana at the airport if I am not smoking it? - Yes, so long as you are consuming your marijuana out of public view.

What is considered out of the public view at the airport? - That is up to the interpretation of law enforcement in Colorado and Washington. Also, airports may have additional restrictions on the use of marijuana on airport property.

Can I fly with medical marijuana if I have a prescription? - No. Federal law does not allow any kind of marijuana, whether it is medical or recreational marijuana, on airliners or in the secure parts of the airport terminal (beyond the TSA screening stations), and it does not matter if you have a prescription for medical marijuana.

Am I allowed to fly into an airport in Colorado or Washington with marijuana? - No. If you somehow have managed to bring marijuana with you on your inbound flight, you have broken the law.

What if I am on an incoming international flight from a country where marijuana is legal? - The answer is still no. If you are entering the country, you will have to go clear US customs, and federal law prohibits the importation of marijuana, or any drug paraphernalia.

Follow upcoming developments will publish a series of articles about the implementation of the changes in marijuana laws and regulations in Colorado and Washington and how they may affect air travelers. To receive those updates, please subscribe to the mailing list.

Related resources
Airline travel and marijuana

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