Updated on January 30, 2019.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
It would be wonderful if every U.S. state — and the entire world for that matter, would get on the same page regarding the health benefits cannabis has to offer. Until that day arrives, traveling with medical marijuana can be a tricky business – especially since so many jurisdictions have different statutes regarding substance.
Within the U.S., it’s even trickier with federal laws still prohibiting the use of any marijuana, medical or recreational, and various states — the few that allow the use of medical marijuana — having different restrictions regarding which qualifying conditions cannabis can treat.
This guide will help you navigate the tricky aspects of traveling with medical cannabis so you can get around with fewer risks. Note there is no such thing as risk-free travel when it comes to traveling with pot — in any of its forms.
Also, marijuana state and country laws are changing continuously, so always check the local laws of the areas that you’re traveling through and visiting before taking a trip with medical cannabis.
Medical Marijuana Travel Restrictions
While medical marijuana may be legal in your state, it is not yet legal in nearly half the country. This means that when traveling to, or through, many states, you could be at risk if you have pot in your possession.
16 Non-Legal Medical Marijuana States Pending Legalization
This list is changing continuously, so if your state has not yet legalized medical marijuana, it could do so shortly. However, even if the state hasn’t legalized weed, it doesn’t mean you can’t travel to these states or drive through them. It does mean, though, that you should take extra precautions when in these states if you have cannabis in your possession.
34 Legal Medical States and Washington, D.C.
Of the slight majority of states (34 so far, plus Washington, D.C.) that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, laws vary widely, so it’s essential that you research local regulations if your travels take you through any of these states:
While you may travel with marijuana in your possession in these states, you may not drive while under the influence of the herb.
Medical pot is also heavily restricted, otherwise known as forbidden, for all mass transportation entering, departing or leaving through the United States. This includes buses, trains and airplanes.
Some states have reciprocity laws with other states. This means that if you register in the second state to purchase medicine, you do not have to take risks involved in traveling with your medication.
Understand the laws in the state where you will be traveling to make sure that they reciprocate with your state. Check for any restrictions that might limit your ability to purchase medical pot in that state before you leave without it. For instance, some states will allow you to bring your medical marijuana into the state, but will not allow you to purchase cannabis there.
How to Travel With Marijuana If You Have To
Many Americans have either a need or a strong desire to travel. When you do leave home, you need to take medications that your physician has legally prescribed to you. It’s sometimes necessary to travel even if your state of health or specific condition requires medical marijuana to help you get through your day.
If you’re going out of state with medical marijuana into a state where medical marijuana is not permitted, state police can arrest you — even if you are a registered medical marijuana patient. The same holds true for federal authorities in any state. Plus, if you are caught crossing state lines with medical marijuana, you may be arrested by federal authorities for drug trafficking.
Flying with medical marijuana presents specific challenges, as does traveling by train or bus. However, these problems are not insurmountable. While it does remain a risk to fly with medical marijuana, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) may not cause an issue if you aren’t obvious about traveling with it in your possession.
Traveling Domestically in the Same State With Medical Cannabis
If you live in a state where medical marijuana is permitted, you don’t have to worry about traveling with it in your possession other than adhering to the letter of the law within your state and avoiding entanglements with federal law enforcement officers.
If you’re traveling within your state with medical weed, make sure you also have a copy of your prescription card and identification. The following words of wisdom may aid you in your pursuits if you’re planning in-state travel while in possession of prescription pot.
If you need to travel with your Medical Marijuana, exercise the following precautions:
Offer law enforcement no reason to stop you. Avoid driving erratically, speeding, swerving, driving aggressively and displaying other behaviors that might draw attention to you.
Make sure your vehicle is up to code. This means that your turn signals, headlights, brake lights, etc. are all in working order and that your vehicle tags and registration are all up to date.
Be respectful if stopped by law enforcement and give them no reason to search your vehicle.
Volunteer no information to law enforcement. Assert your right to remain silent and never consent to a search.
Be aware that even with a prescription, driving under the influence of pot, medical or otherwise, is illegal. Always take the safety of others into account when using substances, such as medical cannabis and other prescription medications that may impair judgment, reaction times, etc.
Traveling Domestically Outside of Your Home State With Medical Marijuana
The states that allow medicinal pot often have reciprocity laws to enable you to bring your weed with you into the state when traveling. Whether you are taking medical marijuana on vacation to these states or seeking to purchase it there to avoid the hassles of being on the road with it in your possession, you need to familiarize yourself with state and local laws related to medicinal marijuana and the dispensing of medical weed within the state.
Despite the fact that many states do allow you to use medical marijuana, if you’re traveling from a state where you are permitted to partake, very few states allow you to purchase medical grade cannabis with an out-of-state prescription.
If you’re unwilling to take the risks of traveling from state to state with medical pot in your possession, that limits you to visiting states that allow you to purchase recreational weed or states that do allow out-of-state prescription cardholders to buy medical marijuana. Those include:
Michigan (though each city has its policies)
In states that allow for the legal use of recreational marijuana, you may be able to purchase it from state-sanctioned dispensaries. Note that it remains illegal according to the federal government even when allowed by the state and that there can be federal consequences for the use and transport of medical cannabis within, to or from these states.
Be aware that while you may qualify as a medical marijuana user in your state, your condition or illness may not make you eligible for this protection in the states you’re traveling to. Understand the precise laws where you’re going when you intend to travel with medical cannabis or if you plan to purchase it once you arrive.
Traveling Internationally With Medical Cannabis
International travel with medical cannabis is particularly problematic in that your luggage and person are subject to search at entry points and while going through customs. If you must travel internationally as a medical cannabis patient, it is critical that you research whether the country in question has legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use and whether you might be able to obtain there.
It is much safer to buy your medication there than to travel with it and run the risk of being arrested for federal or, possibly, international drug trafficking. There are some countries around the world where the use of medical marijuana is allowed, according to Newsweek, though with varying limitations, including:
Make sure you have all your documentation if you’re traveling internationally with medical marijuana in your possession.
Traveling via Ground With Medical Marijuana
Traveling on land for your vacations or other trips can be wallet-friendly. It can also be friendly to medical cannabis prescription holders — especially if you don’t typically call attention to yourself while driving and invite traffic stops or citations.
While the TSA does monitor bus and train travel in addition to air travel, the screenings for traveling via these means are a little less invasive than those for air travel. Be aware that bus and train companies may choose to remove you if you are known to possess medical marijuana or if you appear to be under the influence of drugs — even if you do have a qualifying letter from your physician or a prescription card.
If you’re traveling within your state, you shouldn’t have a problem if you are pulled over by law enforcement and caught with medical marijuana in your possession — provided that you are not driving under the influence and that you have all the necessary documentation with you at the time of the traffic stop.
The problems typically arise when you travel out of state. Even if you’re traveling to a place where medical cannabis is allowed, you must verify that the state has reciprocity agreements with your state that permit you to travel with medicinal marijuana in your possession. Otherwise, officials may treat you as someone who is not only in possession of illegal drugs but also as someone who is trafficking them.
The best thing to do when traveling by ground with medical marijuana in your possession is to know the law in the states you are driving through as well as your destination state, and avoid doing anything that might get you noticed by law enforcement officers in states that do not allow medical marijuana.
Also, worth noting about the laws in various states, is the following information:
Qualifying conditions for the use of medicinal marijuana.
Laws regarding the amount of medical pot you can have in your possession.
Types of cannabis approved for medical use in that state.
Even if you’re traveling to a state that honors reciprocity, it’s in your best interest to register in that state as a medical marijuana patient before traveling there. That way, you can obtain medical marijuana legally there rather than traveling with it on your person or in your vehicle.
Traveling via Air With Medical Marijuana
Under federal law possession of marijuana is illegal. Today, TSA security officers are mandated to report possession of marijuana. Currently, medical marijuana is not permitted in carry-on luggage or checked luggage. While TSA officers may not actively search for pot, if they discover it during a screening, they can refer the incident to a law enforcement officer. While once upon a time, the TSA actively searched for marijuana, recent changes have eliminated this policy.
Penalties exist if you are caught attempting to fly with medical marijuana. Federal law mandates that the penalty for being caught with marijuana in your possession is up to one year in jail and a fine of at least $1,000 for the first offense. Subsequent convictions may result in steeper fines and sentences.
Legal Issues Regarding Traveling With Medical Marijuana
The most important thing for you, when traveling with medical marijuana is to understand the law in all states where you are traveling and to know your rights under the law.
Regardless of where you’re traveling in the U.S., the federal government views possession of marijuana, medicinal or otherwise, as a crime. That supersedes state and local laws that may say otherwise. In other words, you want to avoid entanglements with federal authorities at all costs. TSA, by the way, is a federal entity.
When your physician has prescribed a dosage of medical marijuana, you’re only allowed to use that much product. Nothing more. You should never have more weed in your possession than your prescription allows. You should also avoid having more on your person than is allowable in your state.
Never use medical marijuana in public places. Not only does this make you a target for law enforcement, but it also announces to others that you have access to pot and may make you a target for crime.
Finally, never leave home without your identification and other documentation verifying your prescription and condition.
Best Cannabis Products to Travel With
When traveling with cannabis products, inconspicuousness is the key. Avoid traveling with products that are obviously weed and opt instead for alternatives, provided they work with your particular prescription. For some people, the idea of a stash box helps them relax a little more while traveling. There are a few inventive boxes that will pass casual visual inspections and even some that will mask the scent.
Other options include using oil pens or edibles when traveling. These items are very inconspicuous and look like normal items people would travel with, like:
The less your medicinal cannabis looks like recreational pot and the more it looks like ordinary everyday items, the less likely it will be to attract the scrutiny of screening agents and law enforcement officers.
The best advice is to find the right strain and strength to meet your prescription needs and use products like these instead of using traditional pot while traveling.
Tips for Traveling With Medical Marijuana
The following tips may help you travel more safely when you need to transport medical pot.
Seal medical marijuana in its original packaging and store it in the trunk or glove compartment of your vehicle if traveling by car. Law enforcement needs probable cause to search your vehicle. If they can smell marijuana or see evidence of it in the open, they can search. Otherwise, the search would be illegal.
Remove the keys from the ignition and lock the door when stepping out, if you are asked to step out of your vehicle.
Store medical marijuana in your checked luggage when flying. Avoid carrying it on your person or in your carry-on bags to reduce the risks of security discovering it. While even this is not risk-free, it does reduce your risk — especially if you take steps to store it stealthily inside your checked bags.
Have a plan in place if you do have an encounter with law enforcement. Knowing how you will handle the situation can help you avoid panicking and making costly errors in judgment as a result.
While there is absolutely no risk-free way to travel with medical marijuana, the advice offered here will significantly reduce your risks and help you avoid potential legal problems as a result of your travels.
Learn More From MarijuanaDoctors.com
If you’re just beginning your medical cannabis journey, your first step is to contact a marijuana doctor near you through MarijuanaDoctors.com. Once you connect with a licensed cannabis doctor, you’ll be well on our way to experiencing the benefits the herb can offer you.