Travel took a back seat for most people during the COVID era. But as vaccines roll out, restrictions ease, and borders slowly reopen, many are beginning to consider adventures away from home again. For those who use cannabis, travel presents some additional questions. Is traveling with weed legal?
This guide explores the legal nuances of how to travel with cannabis, tips for storing cannabis while driving, and some great product choices for taking on the road on your next trip.
Interstate Travel vs. In-State Travel
Since the legal status of cannabis changes from place to place, it can be tricky for travelers to know the rules around transporting cannabis.
At the federal level, cannabis is a controlled substance, so it’s illegal to possess any amount. By contrast, 18 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized adult recreational use of cannabis, and 36 states have medical marijuana programs.
If you are in a state where cannabis is legal, you can carry it with you while driving within the state and take it on some in-state flights. On the other hand, interstate travel with cannabis, which involves crossing state lines, is always illegal because of federal law. This is true even when a person leaves a state with legal recreational cannabis to go to another state where recreational cannabis is legal. For example, someone from Santa Monica, California, can travel to San Francisco with cannabis. They can’t travel to Las Vegas from Santa Monica, even though Nevada also legalized cannabis.
Buy Local, Use Local
The best plan of action is to buy cannabis at the destination, use it there and leave it there. Leaving cannabis at home or using it in an adult-legal destination will help avoid complications at borders or in airports. With so many states beginning to legalize or offer reciprocal medical marijuana programs, this is getting easier to do. It’s good advice, even when traveling between two states where recreational use is legal.
The Exceptional Case of Hemp
In 2018, the new Farm Bill legalized hemp nationwide.
The TSA states that products with no more than 0.3 percent THC are allowed in both carry-on and checked luggage. The agency also emphasizes that agents have a duty to report suspected violations to the appropriate authorities.
Air Traveling with Weed: Keep Cannabis Grounded
Aviation is federally regulated, which means it’s illegal to have any cannabis product in US airspace. Again, the best advice is to buy and use cannabis products at the source, rather than trying to take them along for the ride.
This is the case even if someone travels between two states where recreational cannabis is legal. Bringing cannabis onto a plane or into US airspace is a felony. Even medical cannabis is prohibited.
What about hopping an in-state flight in a legal state? Local law enforcement may allow someone flying from Sacramento to San Diego to keep cannabis with them, since this counts as in-state travel. TSA agents can still confiscate cannabis or report passengers to federal authorities, so it’s better to just leave cannabis products at home.
Paraphernalia itself is allowed, although TSA agents may report passengers carrying items like bowls or pipes. Vape pens, e-cigarettes, and filled lighters aren’t allowed in checked luggage but can be taken in a carry-on.
Check in with Airport Policies
In cannabis-legal states, passengers may need to dispose of their cannabis before boarding an in-state flight. Some airports have policies that allow people to leave their cannabis in an amnesty box or to return it to their vehicle.
It’s always a good idea to check the policy of any individual airport. The rules vary widely, even in states that have legalized.
- Although Colorado led the way with recreational legalization, Denver airport’s policy means no cannabis is allowed on airport property. Cannabis will be confiscated, but there’s no penalty.
- Nevada has some strict rules about cannabis even though it’s legal. McCarran International’s policy is similarly strict: cannabis found on the property will be confiscated and travelers could be arrested and charged with a felony if they have more than an ounce.
- LAX’s marijuana policy states that the Los Angeles Airport Police will not arrest those complying with California law, but TSA is still under federal jurisdiction.
It’s important to remember TSA agents often aren’t looking for cannabis, but they will turn travelers over to the authorities if they find it.
Traveling with Weed, On the Road Again
Since cannabis is illegal under federal law, crossing international borders with it is illegal. When Canada legalized cannabis in late 2018, US border agents were quick to reassert this. Transporting cannabis in any form across the border by air or land remains prohibited While using cannabis in Canada may not get anyone detained, carrying cannabis to or from is a felony. Travelers who use cannabis abroad may face additional questioning.
Crossing state lines by car is subject to these same rules. Penalties may depend on the status of cannabis in the destination state. Law enforcement officials in non-legal states next to legal states will often stop vehicles with out-of-state plates. For example, law enforcement officers in Nebraska may be more likely to stop a car with Colorado plates.
Driving between two states where cannabis is legal is still prohibited, as mentioned above. Within most legal states, however, people can travel with up to one ounce of cannabis in the car.
Drivers should always take precautions when traveling with cannabis, whether it’s a multi-day tour of their state or a short drive to the beach. Never drive while under the influence of cannabis.
Most of the states with legal cannabis have rules for storing cannabis while driving. It should be stored in a sealed container. The driver shouldn’t be able to access it. A good rule of thumb is to put cannabis in air-tight, sealed containers and store them in the trunk of the car.
At the Destination
The most popular outdoor summertime activities in America include having a barbecue or picnic, going for a hike, and going to the beach. Camping, RVing, and other activities have also exploded in popularity following the onset of the pandemic.
It’s a good idea to check the rules of your destination ahead of time. National parks, for example, are under federal land. Although Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks are in California where cannabis is legal, it is still illegal to have cannabis in these parks.
Cannabis use may not be permitted in state parks or other areas deemed “public spaces.” In most states where cannabis is legal, there are rules against public consumption. Use in a private campground or RV park might be considered public consumption. It’s best to research the cannabis policy of your destination.
There is a growing cannabis tourism industry, which offers tours and other experiences. Depending on state rules, cannabis use may or may not be allowed on tour buses or at scheduled stops. Again, the smartest thing to do is ask in advance.
Storing Cannabis on the Go
Those traveling in-state by car should consider how they store their products. Cannabis is sensitive to light, humidity, air, and heat. Improper storage can cause the breakdown of cannabinoids, which reduces the product’s effectiveness. Cannabis flower stored in moist conditions could grow mold.
Proper storage is important, especially when cannabis flower goes on the road. Keep these tips in mind to keep cannabis products fresher longer.
- Pick a glass or titanium container, which protects against air and light exposure.
- If using glass containers, the colored glass will minimize the breakdown of cannabinoids.
- Store cannabis in a cool, dark place to avoid damage from heat and light.
- Don’t store cannabis in a cooler for long periods, since moisture can cause mold or mildew to develop.
- Don’t freeze cannabis flower, since freezing can cause the cannabinoid-rich resin to fall off.
- Plan ahead and minimize the opening and closing of containers.
If possible, take just what’s needed for the length of the trip.
Gummies usually travel quite well, since they’re shelf-stabilized, however, they can be sensitive to temperatures. Too much heat and you’ll wind up with one solid gummy block, making portioning a challenge.
Items like vape pens are allowed in carry-on luggage, so long as they have no cannabis in them. These items may raise suspicions and lead to additional questioning from TSA agents or other authorities. Remember that the use of vape pens, e-cigarettes, and lighters is forbidden during flight.
Disposable vape pens are an excellent solution for air travelers. They can be bought, used, and disposed of before reaching the airport.
Stay Up to Date on Cannabis Rules
The rules around cannabis are changing rapidly, so it’s a good idea to read up before every trip. The Heally blog has more insightful articles to help cannabis users stay up to date with the latest rules and regulations in their state and beyond.