States have different laws regarding medical and recreational marijuana. This evolving patchwork has caused confusion on whether airline passengers face drug charges for taking marijuana aboard passenger airliners. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) announced, in an April 20 social media post, that it does not inspect luggage for marijuana at airports. There are no TSA regulations governing the possession or transportation of marijuana and cannabis-infused products.
However, federal and state laws prohibit the possession or transportation of marijuana and cannabis-infused products. The TSA will also contact local police if a passenger tries to board an airliner with a prohibited item such as a knife or corkscrew. Holding a state issued medical marijuana card will not stop the TSA from contacting local police because the agency does not determine whether the possession was legal under Pennsylvania or other state law.
But, the overwhelming number of passengers possessing medical or recreational marijuana go through airport security daily without the TSA seizing their marijuana or contact law enforcement. Only 12 passengers were arrested by police for carrying a small amount of cannabis in 2018. An attorney in Pittsburgh with contacts in local law enforcement said that he is unaware of any arrests.
Nonetheless, there are substantial risks. Arriving to an airport on an international flight with cannabis carries more hazards. Passengers coming from overseas must go through a federal inspection station which sometimes have drug-sniffing dogs. Its agents apply federal law which criminalizes marijuana and will prosecute or at least impose fines for possessing small amounts of marijuana or possession of drug paraphernalia.
Attorneys generally advice clients against transporting even small amounts of marijuana on an airplane because of federal law, different state law and the penalties for transporting drugs across state lines. Smoking or vaping marijuana on a flight may have serious consequences because airlines have a zero-tolerance policy and may summon local law enforcement.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends that medical marijuana patients should use the same precaution that apply to driving. They should keep the original receipt, keep the medicine in its original container and carry their state-issued patient card. The federal government though, does not have to respect state law.
Travelers should seek legal advice over any confusion over traveling with marijuana. An attorney can also help assure that federal and state officials comply with a traveler's rights.