Americans Helping Americans Abroad

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Widely varying regulations make traveling with cannabis products a risky proposition.

You are vacationing in the United States or coming back to visit family and old friends! Lo and behold you are traveling to a state that has legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. Your knee hurts... try some THC salve. You are having trouble sleeping... find the strain that will make you drowsy. Just want to have some good times... partake! However, once the trip ends it may be tempting to bring some of your favorite marijuana products on the plane trip back. However, this can be a complicated and risky endeavor, as laws about marijuana vary widely from country to country, and, to further complicate things, laws about marijuana can vary widely even within a country’s borders.

U.S. Federal Law Still Applies

Primarily, it's important to understand that marijuana is still illegal under federal law in the United States, regardless of whether it's legal on a state level. This means that you are free to use your marijuana product of choice while in that state without risk of state criminal charges and it is extremely unlikely you are at risk of federal criminal charges. Nonetheless, if you are caught with marijuana at an airport in the US, the consequences range from forfeiture of the marijuana products to severe federal legal consequences, including fines and even imprisonment.

Airport Security Screening Actions Vary

luggage scannerThe Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a government agency responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the traveling public in the United States. One of the key areas of their focus is the screening of passengers and their belongings at airports. In a statement on their website, the TSA states that their focus is on security and that they do not search for marijuana or other drugs. However, if they come across marijuana or other drugs during the screening process, they will refer the matter to local law enforcement.

If marijuana is legal in that state, local law enforcement will not allow you to continue on your flight until you either leave the airport or dispose of the marijuana products. In states where marijuana is legal it is not uncommon to see secure boxes to throw away the marijuana product. Most likely you will throw away the marijuana products and continue on to board your plane. The likelihood of facing any consequences is fairly low but you could potentially miss your flight or face delays while dealing with law enforcement.

The stakes are greater in states where marijuana is illegal. In those states, there is a real risk of arrest and criminal charge prosecution. If marijuana is illegal in the embarking state of your travel plans DO NOT BRING MARIJUANA TO THE AIRPORT!

Crossing Borders with Marijuana

TSA AgentLet’s say you make it out of state with your marijuana products safely hidden away and intact. You then face the reality that trying to transport marijuana across international borders is a violation of both US and international law. The penalties for doing so can be severe, including lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines.

Upon arriving in your destination country there is always the possibility that your bag could be searched at that location. If you are caught with marijuana during a search, you could face legal consequences in the location that you are visiting.

So, with that said, is it ever possible to fly with marijuana from the US to a foreign country? Technically, yes, but you would be breaking the law – which is never a good idea!

The safest choice is simply not to do it. If you want to use marijuana while you're traveling, you can research the laws regarding marijuana in the country you're visiting and purchase it legally once you arrive.

New Cannabis Products Cause Complications

One more complication, domestic and international laws surrounding hemp-derived cannabis products is even more murky and convoluted. As fast as jurisdictions pass laws and regulations to address the cannabis product du jour, entrepreneurs are even faster to develop new cannabis products. Lawmakers just cannot keep up with Delta 8, Delta 10, THCA, THCo, HHC and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, the analysis for these products is no different than that for marijuana. It is better not to travel with these products unless you have done your research and know the product is legal from origin to destination. Fortunately, these types of products are generally not criminally enforced as marijuana products, so the risks of prosecution are significantly lower.

Strict Laws in Many Countries

Finally, there are countries that are very draconian in their approach to marijuana and other cannabis products. In the United Arab Emirates, any amount of marijuana possession is a minimum of four years in prison. Japan has a zero tolerance policy, and a first offence is punishable with a minimum five year prison sentence. In Dubai a British man was recently sentenced to four years in prison for having trace residue of marijuana on his shoes. Avoid possessing marijuana and other cannabis products when traveling to Indonesia, Singapore, Turkey, France, and Saudi Arabia. Do not travel to these countries with any cannabis products of any kind!

Flying with marijuana from the US to a foreign country is a risky proposition, and not one that we would recommend. While it may be tempting to bring your favorite strain with you on your travels, the potential legal and practical consequences make it simply not worth the risk. If you want to use marijuana while you're traveling, the safest and easiest option is to research the laws in the country you're visiting and purchase it legally once you arrive – and don’t forget to leave it behind when you head home.


Craig Small is a senior counsel with the law firm Clark Hill in Denver CO.

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