While pot is currently legal in Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, traveling with marijuana across the border of any of those states while carrying your recent purchases makes you a felon in most cases. The difference of a few miles turns your legally purchased recreational substance into a Schedule 1 narcotic. This is comparable to a 12 pack of beer turning into heroin just because you happen to be a few miles further down the road.
Unlike the repeal of the alcohol prohibition, which happened nationwide, marijuana legalization has been patchwork, piecemeal, and full of gray areas. Is there any 100% safe way to get your legal recreational marijuana products back home without becoming a criminal? In fact, there seems to be a paradox with coming of legalized marijuana. It seems to have grown more difficult and dangerous to travel around with it now that it’s legal in some areas. Where once it was fairly easy to fly under the radar, the radars have gotten more sensitive.
According to the Associated Press, 29 people were caught trying to board airplanes with marijuana last year in Denver. In all cases, no charges were filed and the passengers were allowed to board their planes after they disposed of their weed. Keep in mind, these were legally-purchased amounts (1 ounce for residents, ¼ ounce for non residents).
Just as I was thinking of heading to the airport carrying a “MARIJUANA DISPOSAL” sign, it turns out the airport authority has already started an Amnesty Box program. A large green container advises travelers that taking marijuana substances onto airplanes is illegal. It has been reported that they are highly popular. And before you ask, the local Sheriff’s are responsible for emptying the boxes.
Originally there was said to be a $2500 fine and possible imprisonment for trying to conceal pot while boarding a plane or even bringing it onto airport property. But thus far, all cases the Denver TSA has turned over to the Pitkin County Sheriff have essentially been ignored. The only time local authorities get involved is when the case involves a minor, or looks to be large amount of marijuana packaged for distribution.
Even if you get your products on the plane, there’s no guarantee that you’re home free. Although nobody has said it officially, incoming flights from Colorado could be monitored. Remember that Oklahoma and Nebraska are suing Colorado over their state’s pot laws. Not unlike the angry neighbor calling the cops on the house party next door.
What it comes down to is possessing any illegal substance in any airport is a federal crime. Proceed at your own risk.
If you travel to the Centennial State by car, once you cross a state line you are subject to the laws of that state. Of the seven states that surround Colorado, five of them still consider any type of marijuana or marijuana product 100% illegal. Thus, law enforcement can detain you for something as simple as failure to signal a lane change, call for a drug dog to walk around your car, and raise some revenue at your expense.
NPR ran a story last year about B.J. Wilkinson, the police chief of Sidney, Nebraska near the border, lamenting how marijuana related arrests jumped 50% in the year after Colorado passed legalization. What isn’t mentioned is how these arrests were initiated. Something that would be nice to know if you plan on sneaking some pot back home.
There’s no mention of profiling out of state plates, or if the suspects were speeding, or if they were doing dabs on Main Street, naked. The Deuel County Sheriff Department does report $18,067 in asset forfeitures for 2014. That’s more than double what they reported the previous year, when legalization was just being passed in Colorado. While presenting themselves as protectors of the public from dangerous potheads, they are also filling county coffers to defray the cost of prosecution, buy new cars, and hire more personnel to seize more assets. But this is nothing new. Asset forfeiture for marijuana is still the favorite cash cow of law enforcement.
If one was to ask a long time smoker from the prohibition era who’s experienced in carrying illegal weed, he may tell you, “Only break one law at at a time. Don’t drive under the influence while carrying. Obey all traffic laws. Make sure your vehicle has all headlights, taillights, signals working properly. Keep tags, drivers license, and insurance up to date. Act and look normal.” But truth be told, even carrying small personal amounts across state lines is still a risky business.
Washington State was the first to follow Colorado’s lead on legalization. And although they haven’t gone as far as the amnesty box policy, it seems most travelers caught trying to get small amounts of marijuana products on planes are simply asked to surrender them and proceed on their way. But try taking it into Idaho and you are likely to encounter the same scenarios as the states surrounding Colorado. But if you’re traveling north to Canada, you could become subject to international law. And a warning to Canadian cannabis curious tourists, if you’re caught trying to return home from Washington with a cannabis product, you could wind up being banned from the U.S. forever.
In Alaska, as of right now, you can fly inside the state and take your stuff with you. However, crossing out of state jurisdiction turns the situation identical to Colorado’s. Smile, you’re breaking federal law again! The District of Columbia has the unfortunate circumstance of having a lot of senators and other legislative types living there who are threatening to dismantle their legalization laws. So at this time, weed is still subject to the draconian laws it has always suffered under.
If you’re a smoker used to traveling with your stash, none of this is probably news to you. You already have vast experience in covert transportation from the total prohibition days.
But to you, the “cannabis tourist,” you’re safest consuming all your purchases before you head to the airport or the state line. Educate yourself on the laws of the state you plan on visiting, as well as those of surrounding states before you travel. Bon voyage!