Updated on January 30, 2019.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Even though medical marijuana is legalized in about half the states in the U.S., patients still struggle with paranoia and fear about their cannabis treatments. For many years, possession has led to criminal charges. If you’re a participant in your state’s medical marijuana program, it may feel weird to be to possess these medications legally.
As a cardholding patient, you need to know your rights. However, some circumstances require caution, and driving with marijuana is one of them. Maybe you want to take a road trip, but you’re not sure if you can have your cannabis with you. Or maybe you’re just driving to the supermarket after you pick up your medicine. Whatever your reason, if you have marijuana in your car, you probably break into a cold sweat every time you see the police drive by.
Don’t panic! Knowledge is what you need to fight this fear. Each state may have different regulations on this subject, so be familiar with your state’s laws and codes. Here’s a basic overview of the things you should be aware of when having marijuana in your car.
The Big No-No’s
No matter if you’re traveling around the block or traveling cross-country, there are a few things that are always illegal no matter what state you’re in:
Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal, even if you live in a state that allows recreational use
Possessing cannabis with the intent of distributing or selling is illegal at both the state and federal levels
Only use medical marijuana in compliance with your state’s laws — your card won’t protect you if you’re using your medication illegally
If you’re not driving under the influence, driving with medical marijuana in your state is not as big a deal. If you have your medical marijuana card certifying you’re part of the medical marijuana program, you can have a specified amount of cannabis, as governed by your state’s legislation, while you’re walking around or driving.
There are a few tips you should be aware of if you have cannabis in your car:
Do your homework and be familiar with your state’s medical marijuana laws
If you’re traveling outside of your city or county, be aware of other local ordinances regarding the possession of cannabis
Carry a very minimum amount of medical marijuana
Keep your products out of sight, like in the glove compartment or trunk
Avoid transporting marijuana plants
Open containers of cannabis products are similar to driving with open containers of alcohol and can put you at risk for a DUI
Traveling With Medical Marijuana Between States
It’s illegal to have cannabis in your car when traveling from one state to another. Even if you’re going between states where marijuana is legal, like Oregon to Washington, this act falls within the authority of the federal government. And, as we mentioned earlier, marijuana is still federally illegal.
In general, the DEA and the feds have bigger fish to fry than those who have a small amount of cannabis in their car. However, you’re still at risk. You’re also in jeopardy if you’re within a border crossing zone preparing to go to Canada or Mexico. Before you even cross the border, this is still the federal government’s authority.
In these circumstances, it doesn’t matter if you’re caught with a small amount or a large stash, if you cross state lines it’s considered drug trafficking. So, the federal penalty is the same for any amount of marijuana found in your car:
First-Time Offenders: Fine of $250,000 to $1 million and up to five years in a federal prison
Multiple-Time Offenders: Fine of $500,000 to $2 million and up to 10 years in federal prison
What to Do If You’re Pulled Over With Cannabis in Your Car
The best way to avoid being pulled over with cannabis in your car is to practice three guidelines:
Travel safely and obey all rules of the road
Be a good neighbor, avoiding raucous behavior and loud music
Practice discretion by keeping your medical marijuana out of sight
If you happen to be pulled over while in possession of cannabis, stay calm. It’s always best to be prepared ahead of time in the eventuality of this happening. Keep your documents organized — your driver’s license, car registration, proof of insurance and medical marijuana card should be readily available.
Be sure to comply with any of the officer’s requests, but keep the following in mind:
The police can only search your car if they have probable cause, meaning they can see or smell marijuana.
If they ask to search your vehicle, you have the right to say, “I do not consent to a search.” However, if the officer asks, they most likely have probable cause and will search your car regardless.
If asked to step out of the car, turn off your engine and lock your doors.
Learn More About the Stipulations of Using Medical Marijuana
Although it’s not illegal to travel with cannabis in your car if you have a medical marijuana card, it’s probably best to leave it at home or to only travel with small, easily stored amounts. Once again, never drive under the influence of cannabis, even if you have an MMJ card. You put yourself and those on the road at risk.