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Do you have exciting travel plans lined up for a summer vacation? Or are you someone who travels regularly for work? Whatever your reason for jet setting, if you use medical cannabis there are some things you need to know.
If traveling in the United States with medical cannabis, you will be forced to face many legal gray zones. Medical cannabis is intended to make the life easier for patients with chronic pain, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, glaucoma, and other conditions. It has proven to do so in clinical trials, but in a larger sense, it’s only easy if you live in a state where medical cannabis is legal and you stay in that state.
If you leave your state, or the United States, however, you could end up facing legal consequences. Consequences can range from being asked to throw out your medication at the airport, to having talk to local law enforcement, to, in countries with hardline stances against cannabis, a prison sentence.
Charlotte Caldwell, a mother from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, recently lost a six-month supply of cannabis oil, intended to treat her son’s life-threatening epilepsy, which she had to go to Toronto to get. She flew from Canada to the United Kingdom and had the medication confiscated at Heathrow Airport.
Medical marijuana is illegal in the UK, outside of one heavily-regulated medication for Multiple Sclerosis. After the Caldwell case reached this peak, there was public outcry, forcing the British government to announce it would take steps to address its ban on cannabis-based medicines.
For Americans traveling with cannabis within the U.S. and internationally, it is still risky. Twenty nine states have medical cannabis laws. This means there are 21 other states that you are not allowed to legally use cannabis in spite of your prescription from a doctor, as it is legally prohibited under federal law. It is a Schedule 1 drug, just like heroin and “bath salts.”
Whether by plane, train, car, or bicycle, if you travel outside your state with medical cannabis, you’re transporting a federally outlawed substance across state lines which leaves you vulnerable. You might assure traveling with marijuana from on legalized state to another, like California to Washington, makes it legally safe, but that’s not true. The illegal action is the act of crossing the border.
Some airports in states with legalized recreational cannabis do not have policies prohibiting cannabis on the premises, such as Logan International Airport in Boston and LAX in Los Angeles. Others, like Denver International Airport, differ; they forbid having cannabis on airport property. Once you reach security checkpoints, no matter, you’re considered in federal territory.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening process is governed by federal–not state–law. As such, the TSA lists medical cannabis as prohibited. Some airports in states with legalized recreational cannabis offer amnesty boxes for travelers to leave their cannabis before going through security.
If screeners find cannabis on a traveler or in their belongings, they will proceed as they do with all illegal items. They will inform law enforcement. TSA responds the same in every state and airport. There is no legal different for TSA between recreational or medical cannabis.
Once local law enforcement is informed, their response depends on the airport you are at. If TSA agents at Logan International Airport, in Boston, call Massachusetts State Police, the state trooper would reference state law to legally determine if you are allowed to have the cannabis.
If you did not break state law, they will let you go. You may or may not be asked to dispose of your cannabis before reentering security. A TSA spokesperson told the Boston Globe if the state police officer determined the cannabis was legal, it would be unlikely to the TSA personnel would keep someone from boarding their plane.
Even if someone makes it through security, however, certain airlines do not allow passengers to transport marijuana on their flights–without exceptions. If your destination is a state where medical marijuana is not legal, you’re then subject to prosecution if local law enforcement finds it.
The situation is even more serious with international flights. In the United Arab Emirates, you can get jailed for four years for carrying even small amounts of cannabis. In Japan, you could be jailed for five years.
It is possible you could manage to transport the product without legal repercussions, but it is risky. If you need your medical cannabis at your destination, do thorough research and assess the risks. If you’re traveling to a state with legal medical cannabis, it is safer to buy it once there.
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