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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Miller


It is grabbing at low hanging fruit to joke about how high you can get aboard an airplane or at Machu Picchu, but for travelers, the impact of worldwide marijuana laws is no laughing matter. 

Many Americans are using marijuana products on a daily basis for a plethora of conditions. We are smoking marijuana, consuming edibles containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and using cannabinol (CBD) products not containing THC. What may have become a daily practice and given little thought must be given serious consideration when you leave home. Are you using a marijuana gummy as a sleep aid? Does a topical CBD oil ease the pain of your aching knee? Is your anxiety over flying relieved by a low-level THC joint?  Do you get high for recreation? While those may be perfectly legal in your home state, when crossing state lines or international borders, things may become complicated. 

All over the United States the situation is murky as the federal government struggles to reconcile the differing mandates of state versus federal laws. Even the most lenient states differ in their tolerance of allowable quantities to be held by or sold to an individual. It is foolish to commit to paper the current status of individual state laws as voters are regularly taking on these issues at the ballot box in many jurisdictions. Changes are in the wind. 

So, who is the boss, and what rules apply? The first “gate-keeper” that travelers may encounter is the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). As an arm of the federal government, they are bound to follow the law of the land. The United States government considers any and all use of any and all marijuana products a violation of federal law, no matter what the laws of individual states dictate. After reading the TSA’s official stand it becomes clear that this is not good news for even casual marijuana users. 

Possession of marijuana and cannabis infused products, such as Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, is illegal under federal law. TSA officers are required to report any suspected violations of law, including possession of marijuana and cannabis infused products. TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but in the event a substance that appears to be marijuana or a cannabis infused product is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.

Official website of the Department of Homeland Security

Under this policy, there is risk in carrying through TSA screening any marijuana, cannabis infused product, or CBD product. Doing so exposes you to possible intervention by law enforcement. When flying within a state where marijuana is legal, you should check with your air carrier as to their policies. While we have referred to air travel, what about travel by car between states?

Federal law prohibits transporting any federally restricted substance across state lines. Cannabis is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I drug. Thus, it is illegal to transport any marijuana products across state borders whether or not it is legal in neither, either state or both states. It is not legal to carry your “personal use” marijuana products from a state where they are legal, into another state where they are not, or the reverse. Forgetting that you have them with you is not a defense. They are ALL illegal in the eyes of the US government. 

On the international stage, each country establishes its own regulations. This is the proverbial situation of – it’s their country and it’s their rules. If you successfully pass through a TSA examination with marijuana products, what awaits you in a foreign country? Punishments for possession can range from ticketing and fines, to deportation, imprisonment, and flogging.  If you run afoul of the law, a quick call to the local embassy, your travel insurance company, or your lawyer back home, is not going to easily fix your problem. You have large and serious issues. 

Many countries have recently loosened marijuana laws. If you are within the laws of your host - lucky you! Research is required, and in that search for knowledge, also be clear about all the countries through which you are passing to reach your destination and return. If you are flying through Dubai, there is a minimum 4-year mandatory prison sentence for being caught with any amount of marijuana. If you thought you were flying home via Amsterdam, but you get re-routed via Dubai, you could be rewarded with a longer stay than you anticipated. 

The same rules apply for transporting marijuana products between the US and other countries as between states. It is not legal to bring something from a country where it is legal into the United States or in the reverse. 

Do not fall prey to the cocky or naïve reasoning that you can outsmart the authorities by concealing marijuana in stinky cheese, dirty laundry, false bottomed boxes or mislabeled pill bottles. It may have worked for your bragging friend, but it may not work for you. 

To summarize, leaving the US and passing through TSA inspection with any marijuana product, immediately puts you at risk for a brush with the US law. Beyond the borders of the US, you are at the mercy of the host country. You must be informed. It is YOUR responsibility, and ignorance does not excuse you from what could be unpleasant, expensive, and dangerous consequences. 


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