Flying with Medical Marijuana
[Editor’s note: This article by guest writer Beau Peters addresses the issue of flying with medical marijuana, which is almost always a bad idea. This is particularly unfortunate in our highly mobile society since many people rely on marijuana to treat serious medical conditions. These people are often caught in an untenable situation- forego their medication or risk criminal sanctions. -Rod Kight]
Medical marijuana is increasingly seen as a viable and necessary treatment for a range of illnesses. Although it is illegal at the federal level, two-thirds of the states have enacted marijuana reform and have laws protecting the medical use of marijuana. Unfortunately, there are a number of gray-areas and lots of confusion with respect to the legal issues surrounding medical marijuana. One of those issues involves traveling by plane.
A Necessary Risk?
There are a number of people who have had their medical marijuana and/or medicinal derivatives seized at airports by local or federal law enforcement, including US Customs. Many people are left confused by the seemingly ever-shifting regulatory status of medicinal marijuana and its derivatives. Some wrongly believe that their state-issued medical marijuana cards allow them to travel throughout the USA with medical marijuana. Others understand the law but are still willing to take on the serious risk of transporting these substances via airplane.
A primary reason that some people are willing to face serious consequences, such as criminal charges, is that marijuana and its derivatives are vital medicine for them. These people reasonably believe that leaving their medication behind is not an option. This is not unusual. Other prescriptions are often considered travel essentials. Medical marijuana is no different. Someone for whom medical marijuana is part of a daily routine that impacts whether or not she will be able to function throughout the day might not even think about the consequences of bringing it on a trip. Or, she may simply be willing to assume the risk.
Marijuana and its derivatives are powerful medical tools that treat a wide variety of illnesses. More medical applications are being discovered regularly as the compounds within marijuana are being studied. Chronic, debilitating illnesses like multiple sclerosis and epilepsy can have some of their harshest symptoms alleviated with the use of medicinal marijuana and its derivatives. For a mother traveling with her child who needs medical marijuana to prevent or mitigate constant seizures, it is understandable that she may attempt to travel with that life-changing medication.
A tiny loophole?
The wave of medical marijuana legalization we see relies significantly on the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, signed into law in 2014 (Amendment). The Amendment effectively halted federal prosecution against state medical marijuana operations by preventing federal funds from being used to do so. Fortunately, the amendment has been successful and has resulted in continued medical marijuana protections for growers, distributors, and users of medical marijuana. It is important to note that the Amendment applies only to medical marijuana, not adult-use/ recreational marijuana.
In effect, this means that individuals traveling within states where medical marijuana is lawful are technically allowed to transport it regardless of the method of travel. It should be noted, however, that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a federal agency, and its enforcement of intra-state travel with medical marijuana is based on the status of the Amendment.
This means that medical marijuana patients who are flying within one of the 33 states where medical marijuana has been legalized are likely to be allowed to fly with their medication. However, even in these circumstances, carrying medical marijuana onto a plane bears significant risk and you should not construe this article as legal advice.
No Interstate Transportation of Medical Cannabis
Unfortunately, the legal status of medical marijuana within any given state ends at its borders. Marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 illegal drug under federal law, the most restrictive. Its schedule 1 classification means that it is not recognized under federal law as having any medicinal benefits. Because of this classification, traveling with medical marijuana between states is a federal offense and subject to prosecution, even if the traveler is going between two states where it is lawful.
Some airports in states where marijuana is lawful have “amnesty boxes” which allow disposal of marijuana products before going through security, potentially avoiding serious legal repercussions.
There is a lot of speculation surrounding marijuana in 2020. For now, there exists a stalemate of sorts between many states and the federal government when it comes to medical marijuana. Hopefully, within the next several years, progressive politicians will address this issue since it impacts millions of US citizens. Until then, it is important for users of medical marijuana to pay close attention to the laws regarding its use and, in particular, not transport it across state lines.
February 26, 2019
This is a guest post by Beau Peters, a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work.
Rod Kight is an international cannabis and hemp attorney. He speaks at cannabis conferences across the country, drafts and presents cannabis legislation to foreign governments, is regularly quoted on cannabis matters in the media, and maintains the Kight on Cannabis legal blog, where he discusses legal issues affecting the cannabis industry. You can contact him here.