If you are traveling with marijuana, here’s what you should know: Despite the nearly 30 U.S. states having passed laws permitting the use and possession of marijuana, in particular medical marijuana, the federal government still criminalizes its use. It is a federal misdemeanor with penalties ranging from six months to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. State governments may only regulate laws within their state lines. Therefore, entering into federal lands such as national parks or taking a federal mode of transportation such as an airplane will subject you to federal laws.
Traveling by Air
According to the U.S. Customs and Border protection as well as the TSA website, marijuana is not permitted at all when traveling by plane. Air travel in the United States is regulated by federal agencies, like the Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration and the TSA. Therefore, this makes you subject to federal laws.
Air passengers are typically screened for safety concerns. If TSA suspects criminal activity, then officials will most likely refer the matter to a local state law enforcement officer. If you are detained for marijuana at an airport or sea port, it has been the practice of most places to allow the state to prosecute the possession in accordance with its laws, instead of referring it to the feds.
This also applies when traveling between states that have legalized marijuana. Flyers are advised to check the airport’s practices. Some airports will check your boarding passes to ensure you will be legal on both states of your trip, others may make you toss your marijuana, the same way as a bottle of water, before passing through security. There may also be amount restrictions in all locations. Travelers are advised to travel with their medical marijuana card and a letter from their doctor at all times.
Never, ever, travel internationally with a controlled substance, even if you carry a prescription.
It is important to remember that even though legally purchased marijuana may sometimes go undetected, the general rule is that it is not permitted, period. If you are subjected to an additional search, municipal, county or state law enforcement will use their discretion to charge you criminally.
Before boarding, check your luggage, carry-ons and clothing pockets to avoid an inadvertent situation. The excuse that you “didn’t know” is rarely acceptable to law enforcement in these situations. Check your local state laws and the laws of any state you wish to travel to with your marijuana.
Traveling by Sea
It is not uncommon to see drug-sniffing dogs at sea ports. As with air travel, travelers are advised to take precautions and then some. If you are caught with marijuana abroad, you are bound by the laws of that country and they are usually more severe than in the U.S.
Simply put, if you don’t want to spend time in a foreign jail, don’t bring marijuana into a foreign country.
On the Road
All these same rules apply when traveling by car. Don’t leave the border to a non-marijuana state if you are carrying marijuana. If you pass through a state where marijuana possession is illegal, you will be in violation of that state’s laws as you pass through and if you were stopped and cited, you would be subject to their criminal laws.
Remember that all 50 states have driving under the influence laws. Just like some prescription medications, marijuana is an intoxicating substance so if you are driving, it may impair you. The amount of marijuana in a person’s system for a driving-under-the-influence charge is low, so know your laws before you drive.
One final note: it is important to know that there are several parts of the country that are federal sovereigns governed only by federal law, including Washington, D.C. and all the national parks and reservations. Regardless of your home state or your reason for carrying marijuana, you can be charged criminally for possession of a controlled substance.
If you are cited for marijuana possession, contact an attorney to determine a course of action to resolve your issue.