If you’ve traveled by airplane in the post-9/11 years, you know that getting through security can be a nightmare. Taking off your shoes, unzipping your laptop bag, proving your cell phone is really a cell phone, making sure you haven’t surpassed the allowed ounces of shaving cream – you can no longer just throw everything you need in a carry-on and call it a day. Traveling with medications can also be problematic, especially when it comes to marijuana.
The rules for typical prescription medications are fairly straightforward. Liquid medications aren’t subject to the 3.4-ounce limitations as long as you declare that you have them before going through the security checkpoint, although they may be screened for explosives or concealed objects. Both liquid and pills should be carrying in their original container with the prescription label attached. If it’s not possible to bring the original bottle or if you’re traveling overseas, bring a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor explaining what the medication is and why you need it. Although you’re technically allowed to travel with an unlimited supply of prescription medications, if you have more than a 90-day supply on you, be aware that Transportation Security Administration agents might become suspicious.
Now, what about marijuana? It’s a complicated question, because although it’s legal in many states, it remains a Schedule I drug under federal law, which means it’s in the same category as heroin. Transporting a federally restricted substance across state lines – whether by plane, car, or otherwise – leaves you in a tricky legal area. You might start out in a state where marijuana is legal, but it can be illegal at your destination. So that supply of weed that you’re carrying for your nausea might very well end up getting you arrested for possession or worse if security decides to check your bags.
Airports themselves might not have regulations regarding marijuana – for example, Logan International Airport in Boston and LAX in Los Angeles are both in states where recreational marijuana use is legal, so it’s not prohibited to have it in the airports. When you get to that security checkpoint, however, federal law takes over. The screening procedures used by the TSA are governed by federal law, and medical marijuana is listed as a prohibited substance. In some states where recreational marijuana use is legal, airports have what they call amnesty boxes, where people can dispose of marijuana before going through security. These boxes are closely monitored and work similarly to outdoor mailboxes, where things can be deposited but you can’t open them to take anything out.
Generally, the TSA will turn these cases over to local law enforcement, although it’s always better to be safe than sorry, particularly since there are some places where just possessing marijuana is classified as a felony.
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