Does TSA Check for Cannabis?
Published on Aug 24, 2021
Have you caught yourself wondering, "Can I fly with weed?" Now that the world is opening back up after the pandemic and more states have legalized marijuana than ever, it's a valid question. How much do you need to worry about how to fly with weed? Does TSA care about weed anymore? Let's take a look at the grey area of flying with weed and what you need to know for your next trip.
Can You Bring Weed on a Plane?
Legally, no. Although recreational marijuana is legal in 19 states and medical marijuana in 36, it is still federally illegal. Because of this, it is technically illegal to take marijuana across any state line. Even if you're traveling from one legalized state to another, it's still illegal (this includes flying with weed across state lines). The consequences for possession while traveling with marijuana by plane vary by state. Some states have incredibly lenient policies and will look the other way if it isn't a large amount of marijuana. Other states, however, have much harsher laws (such as Louisiana, Iowa, and Georgia) - you could be arrested and face thousands of dollars in fines, years of jail time, and a criminal record in the form of a misdemeanor or felony. All of this depends on the amount of marijuana in your possession.
Additionally, because it's federally illegal and the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is an official government organization, its policies must align with federal law. However, as we've seen in recent decisions, there can be a certain amount of grey when discussing the TSA and marijuana regulation.
Flying with Cannabis Out of New York State
New York state recently legalized recreational marijuana in March 2021, and now it's making news again for a new statement about flying with cannabis. In a recent release, the state has announced that anyone found in possession of three ounces of marijuana or less (the state's legal limit) will not be penalized in any capacity. This means, if you're in a New York airport and are caught with a legal amount of marijuana during a security check, the police will not arrest you, ticket you, or even confiscate your weed.
While people are claiming that this is a new policy by the state's TSA, note that the TSA's stance hasn't changed. The state's police are the ones that enforce the law at the airport and they have been directed by the state to do nothing for any amounts below the legal possession level at airports. The TSA is simply following the same policy it has had for the last several years.
TSA's Overall Stance on Weed
The TSA's primary concern is the safety of passengers and is not concerned with items that do not directly endanger anyone during a flight. This has been reiterated heavily over the last several years, with the TSA blatantly stating that they do not search for marijuana or other illicit drugs. However, as a federal organization, they are required by federal law to report any marijuana and/or marijuana paraphernalia they find during security checks to the local police. It is then up to the local police to dispense law enforcement.
The Likelihood of Being Caught with Weed at the Airport
Because the TSA does not overtly check for marijuana, certain cannabis products are more likely to not be flagged. Flying with edibles in a carry-on is a great example. Can the TSA detect edibles? Yes, in that they can see food items are in your bag. Any food liquid or gel items over 3.4 ounces is flagged by the TSA, and any solid food items that are large enough to obstruct the scanners may also be removed and observed. If these two thresholds are not met, your edibles may go unflagged by TSA during security. Other forms of cannabis that more obviously betray the content will likely be flagged once seen since TSA has a legal obligation to report any cannabis. If it's not obviously cannabis, they need not flag it.
Please note that we are not condoning the illegal transportation of marijuana on an airplane in any capacity. Nor is this advice on how to travel with marijuana or a guarantee that the TSA will or will not check certain items.
What the Future Holds
The reason marijuana is reported by the TSA is that the federal government categorizes marijuana as an illicit Schedule I drug. If national legislation changes marijuana's federal legal status, there's a very good chance that policies will reflect New York's most recent decision: if you have less than the legal limit, you can bring weed on an airplane. We are also hopeful that, as more states legalize marijuana, they will follow New York's lead and overtly make policies regarding airport cannabis possession. Hopefully, sooner than later, the answer to, "Can you bring weed on an airplane" will be a straightforward "yes."
What's your experience with traveling with marijuana? Let us know your thoughts and personal experiences in the comments below!