TSA, Two-Stepping, And Flying With Medical Marijuana

tsa flying marijuana cannabis

If you are an avid reader of marijuana news, chances are you heard today that medical marijuana is allowed on airplanes. Then you probably heard that TSA put on its website that they do not allow medical marijuana on airplanes. If you are on social media a lot, then you probably saw quite the lively discussion (if not outright debate) about whether or not you can fly with medical marijuana.

The discussion started when legendary cannabis activist Tom Angell posted an article pointing out that TSA had listed on its website that flying with medical marijuana was allowed. That led to a media eruption, which is not uncommon when Tom Angell is the first to point out stuff (he’s a beast). That was then followed by TSA updating its website to say that it does not allow medical marijuana on airplanes. Which of course was then followed by some head scratching by some people, and a lot of questions. But it was ultimately a plus in my opinion because it brought about a very big conversation about flying with medical marijuana, and patients rights.

I have actually researched this issue quite a bit over the years, and have contacted TSA no less than two times about this specific issue. Yes, I know what the TSA website says now due to some knee jerk reaction by people at TSA. But the answer to the question ‘can you fly with medical marijuana’ lies in the procedure that TSA follows, and not the current wording on their website (although one would think they would match, right? not so much). The first time I contacted TSA, they provided me the following explanation (bolded for emphasis):

Thank you for your e-mail concerning the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) policy for allowing passengers with State authorized cards to bring marijuana onboard commercial airlines. Although TSA has no regulations addressing possession and transportation of marijuana, possessing marijuana in any detectable amount is a crime under Federal law. Further, it is a crime under the laws of many States to possess or transport marijuana. In the course of screening passengers and their belongings for prohibited items (weapons, explosives and other objects that may pose a risk to aviation security), Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) sometimes discover marijuana or other items that are illegal under State and Federal laws. When this occurs, TSA’s standard operating procedures require TSOs to report evidence of potential crimes to law enforcement authorities. It is up to the responding law enforcement officer, not our TSOs, to evaluate the circumstances and decide whether to arrest a passenger or confiscate the illegal item. TSOs must contact a law enforcement officer when marijuana is discovered because (1) possessing marijuana is a crime under Federal law, and (2) TSOs cannot make an independent determination as to whether a passenger’s documentation is sufficient to authorize possession of marijuana under State law. Law enforcement officers must be contacted even if a passenger is carrying a State-issued cannabis card or other documentation indicating that the marijuana is for medical purposes.

As you can see, while technically yes, TSA does not allow medical marijuana on airplanes, it also doesn’t necessarily prevent medical marijuana from going on planes either. That’s the ‘I do not have enforcement power two-step.’ So what is the end result? Medical marijuana is allowed on airplanes, provided that the patient has all of their credentials to show the reporting law enforcement agent(s) that respond to the call from TSA, and that they are in a state that recognizes them as a patient (their home state or a state with reciprocity). Media reports from today that said TSA allows medical marijuana on planes is indeed true, and the fact that it was listed on their website (I had never seen that before) was extremely newsworthy, even if the website wording was shortlived. Where the person is flying to with the medical marijuana is a matter that is up to the reporting law enforcement agency on the landing side, should TSA call ahead of time. That is absolutely worth noting, but is ultimately not at the heart of answering the question ‘can someone can fly with medical marijuana?’

I called TSA a couple of years ago before I left for a trip to confirm that the policy was still the same (I am a medical marijuana patient, but rarely fly with medicine since I just find it on the other side), and they confirmed that it was. Every time I have flown since, I have asked TSA agents ahead of flying how they treat finding medical marijuana, and they give me the same spiel. To be fair, they are but one of many TSA workers and certainly don’t represent the entirety of the agency. And also to be fair, they always put a really heavy emphasis on ‘you know this is federally illegal’ and play the shame game, and a federal agent could theoretically bust you (just as they can anywhere else in America at any time). But ultimately when I fly with medical marijuana, and even bring it up to TSA agents while going through the screening process, it has never been a problem.

Now, is all of this just potentially anecdotal (other than TSA’s self described incident protocol), and that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, and that I’m just some guy typing away on his couch after taking dab hits with NPR streaming on the phone that sits next to my laptop…entirely possible! So for further evidence backing up the fact that indeed, people can fly with medical marijuana in certain circumstances in America, consider the amazing work of Ed Rosenthal.

If you are reading this blog, obviously you know about Ed Rosenthal. He’s a master grower, an author, a speaker, and an activist. I spoke to him back in 2012 in Denver, the day after Election Day in Colorado when they legalized no less (historic times) and I asked him about a story I read in which he flew out of an Oregon airport, was prevented from flying with medical marijuana. The marijuana was seized, and Ed sued and won. He said that he wanted to “set a precedent so that all other patients could fly with medical marijuana and not have to deal with such stupid problems.” I remember it like it was yesterday.

Angela Bacca wrote an outstanding article for SFEvergreen.com which detailed Ed’s ‘airport activism’ for lack of a better description. Him and Lee Berger went to several airports (including Medford, which was what spurred the conversation with Ed), issued challenges, and received the confiscated medical marijuana back. That led to several airports adopting medical cannabis friendly policies (and the admission by TSA that they do not prevent people from flying with medical marijuana, although local authorities might) on the West Coast. That doesn’t mean that every patient in every legal state can fly at any time they desire with medical marijuana, but it is safe to say that when TSA suggests that they prevent medical marijuana from going on all flights no matter what, that is either not true or it’s a big shift from standard TSA protocol that has been in place for quite some time, which in itself would definitely be newsworthy in my opinion. #2cents

Johnny Green
About Johnny Green 2275 Articles
Johnny Green is a cannabis activist from Oregon. Johnny has a bachelor's degree in public policy, and believes that the message should always be more important than the messenger. #LegalizeIt #FreeThePlant