Updated on December 18, 2017.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Airport travel is already a stressful situation. It’s even more of a problem if you’re a medical marijuana patient who depends on their cannabis for pain management or treatment. Though the TSA is federally run and generally not a cannabis-friendly organization, there are ways to skirt their surveillance to bring your medical marijuana with you.
We’ve provided a brief overview of what to expect and how to handle your next airport security stop, so you can be prepared for your next flight.
How the TSA Handles Medical Marijuana
For the most part, the TSA will not actively search for marijuana or other drugs over the course of their search. However, because possessing marijuana is still a Federal crime and illegal in many states, they do prohibit marijuana on flights and will confiscate it when they find it. Unfortunately, because it’s a Federal organization, the TSA treats medical marijuana no differently than non-medical marijuana.
If, during a passenger or baggage screening, a TSA agent discovers marijuana, the officer is required by regulations to report the incident and provide any related evidence to local law enforcement authorities. At that point, the law enforcement officer evaluates the situation and decides whether to arrest the passenger or confiscate the item — it’s not up to the TSA. The only thing you know for sure is that if they find your marijuana, it’s not getting on the plane with you.
Even if the passenger is holding a state-issued cannabis card or related documentation, the TSA agent must still contact law enforcement officers when they find marijuana. TSA agents are required to do this for two reasons:
Possessing marijuana is a crime according to Federal legislation, and as Federal employees, TSA agents must treat it as an illegal substance.
TSA agents are not authorized to determine sufficient passenger documentation for allowed marijuana possession because they are federal employees — not state operatives.
However, even these guidelines are starting to relax as medical and recreational legalization spreads across the country. Today, the TSA is less likely to enforce these rules for domestic flights — especially when your marijuana is in the form of a pill or edible substance.
It’s worth noting, however, that your medical marijuana may be treated differently for international fight. Be sure to research what to expect if you’re going on an international trip. These rules may not apply if you’re going through a foreign security checkpoint.
The Options Available to Medical Marijuana Users
Though the TSA is willing to make some allowances here and there, it doesn’t mean they’ll permit everything — especially when it comes to cannabis. It also doesn’t mean the police won’t arrest you for that eighth you’ve got in your carry-on.
To be properly prepared for your flight, you have to handle your medical marijuana with care and do your best to make it as unassuming as possible to avoid TSA suspicion. Here are a few tips to help you get past the checkpoint without incident:
Never Store Cannabis on Your Person: The TSA may make some allowances, but they certainly won’t let your cannabis through security if you’ve got it in your pocket. With scanners and pat-downs, you’ll never get it past security, so just keep it in your checked bag. You won’t need it during the flight anyway if you’ve prepared adequately.
Try to Store Cannabis in a Checked Bag: TSA agents will always check your carry-ons more stringently than your checked baggage, so it’s usually a good idea to put your cannabis in a checked bag. Though they will do random searches of checked baggage, if you’ve hidden your stuff well, you can get away with it. If you can’t do that, be sure to hide your cannabis very well in a smell-proof bag and a hidden container.
Hide Your Cannabis Well: There are many ways to hide your stuff in your bag in a way that dogs and scanners won’t notice. First, wrap it up in saran wrap or another air-tight bag — preferably one that’s guaranteed smell-proof — then stick it in something else. You can hide it in a bag of coffee beans, in a hollowed-out pen or a specialized stash box. If nothing else, you can stick it in a sock. Just don’t stick it in a plastic bottle — that’s immediately suspicious.
Consider the Smell: Many airports use dogs to sniff for drugs, and cannabis has a very distinct smell. If possible, avoid bringing a flower on the flight with you. Instead, opt for something a little less fragrant, like oils or edibles.
Bring Small Quantities: Bring just enough of your cannabis product to see you through the end of your trip. Plan everything very carefully and portion out just enough to get you through the experience. You want enough to last you, but not enough that you’ll have anything to bring back. You don’t need to tempt fate more than once.
Use Unassuming Forms: If you’re using CBD oil, one of the best things to do is purchase capsules and fill them with oil. Simply stick them in your pill box with other medications. To prevent the smell from being an issue, you can add another protective barrier by placing the pill box in a smell-proof baggie. By glancing at it, a TSA officer will just see a pill box in a baggie — a relatively common thing for people to bring on a plane.