Flying with Medical Marijuana


Holiday travel is fraught with complications, but even more so for medical marijuana patients. Can patients legally fly with their legitimately obtained medicine? The answer is no.

As with all things marijuana, however, there is a very cumbersome workaround and a lot of practical approaches that depend, somewhat tenuously, on law enforcement discretion. State legislatures in medical marijuana states could make one simple change this year so that patients will not have to contend with this next travel season. In addition to benefiting patients, amending the laws would also support the growth of medical marijuana business.


The Answer is No, No, No and No

That seems pretty harsh for someone with Parkinson’s disease, PTSD or multiple sclerosis who, nonetheless, wants to go places and do things during the holiday season. However, airports are federally regulated, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, and the Transportation Safety Administration does not distinguish between medical and recreational use. Therefore, patients may not:

  • Possess marijuana in the secure areas of the airport or go through TSA screening stations with it,
  • Bring marijuana on the plane,
  • Put marijuana in a checked or carry-on bag, or
  • Mail or ship it to a destination before getting on the plane.

In theory, that leaves one option.


A Destination with MMJ Reciprocity

Patients may dose appropriately before leaving home, leave the medication behind but bring all documentation including a medical marijuana card, travel to a destination that recognizes the home state’s card and then purchase a new supply at the destination.

But only in Nevada.

A handful of states practice what they call “medical marijuana reciprocity.” In most cases, that means that a patient who brings medical marijuana into the state can use it without fear of legal prosecution. That is not particularly useful for the patient who wants to fly, drive, or take some other means of public transportation who cannot legally transport the drug. Interstate hiking, anyone? Only in Nevada, will dispensaries honor another state’s card.


Reality Check

TSA security officers do not actively search for marijuana, but if they observe it during security screening, the officer will refer the matter to law enforcement. In practice there appears to be quite a bit of leeway in enforcement of the policy.

The most cautious advice for those living in states where medical marijuana is legal is to call ahead and ask the airport directly. The TSA has reportedly been accommodating to those with legal medical marijuana cards who are traveling to states where medical marijuana is also legal.

At a minimum, traveling patients reportedly recommend carrying only what is needed for personal consumption, being inconspicuous with the manner the medicine is transported and never putting marijuana, edibles or other related items in checked luggage. Take it in the carry-on, instead.


Is Skulking Really Necessary?

This is ridiculous. Grandmom should not have to sneak her glaucoma medicine through the airport like a smuggler just to see the grandkids for Christmas.

It is also relatively easy to solve. In states that have already adopted medical marijuana laws, state legislatures could take the small step of amending that law to permit out-of-state residents with valid medical marijuana cards to purchase from in-state dispensaries. It might ultimately require a national database of cardholders, but states need that information, in any event, to prevent counterfeiting.

The coming year may not see major changes in the legal status marijuana, but minor changes in the ways that the laws are implemented could humanize the treatment of patients and build a solid basis for the growth of the industry.

Anne Wallace is a New York lawyer who writes extensively on legal and business issues. She also teaches law and business writing at the college and professional level. Anne graduated from Fordham Law School and Wellesley College.

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