This past summer, Illinois became the 20th state to allow marijuana for medical use within its borders. And, just last month, Colorado became the first to set rules for legal, recreational marijuana businesses. With decriminalization pending in several more, it's fair to wonder how the Transportation Security Administration might deal with a nation gradually relaxing its attitude towards possession state by state.
According to Lawyers.com, if you're flying within California or between Washington and Colorado, where some possession of marijuana has been okayed for recreational use, the TSA generally won't give you a hard time. The reason for that, according to TSA policy, is that the TSA won't actively search for drugs. The catch: If TSA officers do find drugs, they can send you over to law enforcement. But in states where recreational and/or medical marijuana is legal (and police officers have better things to do than deal with the odd joint lodged in a toiletry kit), the cops won't intervene at all:
While TSA may never come right out and say that it will allow people to carry a federally banned substance, advocates in the field say that’s generally what’s been happening in practice.
"I hear reports from people flying from one medical use site to another or flying from one part of California to another and they generally report that if they carry their authorization, they simply show the letter and are sent on their way and are allowed to keep their medicine," says Keith Stroup, an attorney and founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "The same policy should apply Colorado to Washington or Washington to Colorado."
We wanted to hear from the TSA directly about these anecdotal reports, but when we called the agency, we were told by recorded message that staff had been reduced because of the government shutdown, and media communications would resume once the furlough had ended. However, local Colorado and Washington publications already sought to answer this question at either end—and judging by their reports, Stroup's analysis holds up.
In 2010, local Denver blog Westword asked a regional TSA official if the same rule applied to flights with transfers in non-medical marijuana states. TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon confirmed it did—as long as passengers had proper documentation and didn't leave the area by the gate. Another recent report from Seattle's The Stranger pretty much guarantees that Seattle police won't bother you if you're (legally) carrying pot: Port of Seattle police sergeant Jason Coke told the newspaper earlier this summer that if a person was legally entitled to possess marijuana, no Seattle port officer would send a report to a prosecuting attorney's office.
Just in case the TSA decides to stop you anyway, Coke told the newspaper that it's best to act normal, not have outstanding warrants, and allow for extra time at check-in. And it may not be indicative of the entire agency's attitude, but at least one Denver-based TSA employee has had a sense of humor about the whole thing. In 2011, when a TSA baggage checker found rapper Freddie Gibbs's stash, all he or she left was a kindly note: "C'mon son."