Now that 20 states have legalized medical marijuana, and two have given recreational use of the drug the green light, the TSA seems disinclined to enforce federal pot statues for passengers boarding planes. The TSA says on its website that its officers “do not search for marijuana or other drugs,” but warns that its agents do turn over those foudn with pot to police. Keep calm and carry it on?
With state laws rapidly being re-written as to the legality of marijuana use, the Transportation Safety Administration is struggling to present a clear message on whether it permits airline passengers to fly with pot. As a federal agency, the TSA remains bound to enforce federal law. While medical marijuana has been legalized in 20 states, and recreational use of the drug has been OK’d in two, pot remains outlawed on a federal level.
On its website, however, the TSA makes clear that its agents are not searching out the drug. “TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs. In the event a substance that appears to be marijuana is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer,” the TSA states. “Whether or not marijuana is considered ‘medical marijuana’ under local law is not relevant to TSA screening because TSA is governed by federal law and federal law provides no basis to treat medical marijuana any differently than non-medical marijuana.”
The discovery of marijuana in a carry-on or checked bag does not automatically mean that a passenger will be turned over to local police, and the agency adds that “the final decision rests with TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane.” Many passengers across the country have reported being allowed to fly with medical marijuana. In 2011, TSA agents at Denver International Airport agents found a small bag of weed in rapper Freddie Gibbs’ luggage and simply left him a chiding note reading “C’mon son.” Quantity may be the key to the TSA’s response. On Sept. 25, TSA agents at Los Angeles International Airport discovered 100 pounds of showed in a passenger’s checked luggage.
“The bags were going through the screening process,” TSA spokesman Nico Melendez told the Daily Breeze. “There was some sort of alarm, and we had to open the bag. We found these big packages of what turned out to be marijuana wrapped up to look like a birthday gift.” Valued at $300,000, the marijuana was promptly turn over to DEA agents and the LAPD, thought the owner of the drug was not located. In some states where medical marijuana is legal, passengers have reported presenting their paperwork to TSA agents, who have allowed them to continue onto flights with their pot. That hesitance to intervene has marijuana rights advocates smiling.
“I’m delighted to hear that because I think it shows that TSA primarily is acting as it was intended when it was established, to protect all of us when we travel on the airlines and to thwart terrorists. It is not supposed to be an anti-drug agency,” Keith Stroup, an attorney and founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws told Lawyers.com. “What nobody feels 100 percent comfortable with is it’s a grey zone you’re going through. It’s technically still illegal even though they aren’t enforcing it very strongly.”
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