How close are we to realizing federal decriminalization? The signs are all pointing positively to an end to cannabis prohibition at the federal level. And a surprising new announcement from the New York Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is more proof that things really are changing quickly.
The TSA in New York announced that it will no longer confiscate, detain or charge individuals flying through state airports with small quantities of cannabis. This is a significant change when considering that cannabis is still federally prohibited and a controlled substance.
However, even though marijuana is federally illegal, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is actually not a law enforcement agency. The TSA is required by law to notify law enforcement when they find any contraband or illegal substance. But since medical and recreational weed are now legalized in New York, law enforcement are not interested in responding. As long as no violent crime or trafficking activity is involved.
We know that people who use cannabis purchased prior to legalization, travel with it. Even though crossing a state line (or boarding an airplane with any controlled substance) could be a felony offense. The airport has always been one of the most high-risk places to travel to or through, with any kind of controlled substance. Including cannabis.
With the passage of legalization of adult use in New York, it is now legal for any resident over the age of twenty-one (21) years to have up to three ounces of marijuana. Since March of 2021, police cannot charge any individual who has three ounces or less of cannabis. Unless they are committing an illegal activity, such as reselling cannabis or providing it to a minor.
This is not the first time that the New York TSA has made a statement of disinterest about travelers with small quantities of cannabis. An article appeared in Forbes in May of 2019, that reiterated the transportation authority’s stance on cannabis.
The TSA stance on cannabis is also the same at LAX in Los Angeles. One of the things that travelers should be aware of is to not carry a weapon along with cannabis. Or to exceed maximum quantities permitted by the state that you are leaving from and traveling to.
Bart R. Johnson is a former State Police Colonel and he was also the Director of Federal Security for fifteen (15) airports in upstate New York. And he stated that security officers are not looking for cannabis when they do a luggage search or pat-down at airport security checkpoints.
Based out of Albany airport in New York, Johnson stated:
“We don’t seize it. We just look for threats—explosives, knives, guns; we don’t look for illegally possessed narcotics. When we notice something suspicious on a pat-down or something like that and then we discover that it’s marijuana… so we’re looking to see if it’s a threat…if it turns out to be something that appears to be an illegal substance, we notify law enforcement”.
Check out a post from the New York Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Instagram. The post was made on 4/20 in 2019.
The chain of command means that the TSA does its due diligence by filing a report. But given the legal status of cannabis in New York, law enforcement is unlikely to do anything about it. However, if you are traveling with other controlled substances? Or large quantities of weed? Expect to face the wrath of local law enforcement, no matter what airport you are flying into or out of in New York.
The New York TSA renewed its statement about search and seizure in July 2021, as reported by The Times Union in New York.