For a short time on Wednesday, long-standing rules on flying with medical marijuana seemed to have been inexplicably overturned. As MassRoots reported, if you searched "marijuana" on the agency's "What Can I Bring?" database on Wednesday morning, here's what it showed:
This would have been a significant departure from TSA policy, which has never directly approved of the idea of traveling with cannabis.
A statement below the search field still cautioned that TSA security would still "refer the matter to a law enforcement officer" if "a substance that appears to be marijuana is observed during security screening," which has long been the agency's policy.
Nevertheless, the switch in the baggage policy seemed to suggest that the TSA was sending a message that it was not particularly concerned with travelers bringing cannabis in their carry-on or checked baggage. But a few hours after reports surfaced of the seeming policy change, the search result was deleted and revised. In a series of tweets, the TSA offered some clarification:
Here's what turns up when you search "marijuana" on the TSA website now:
If you're confused, you're not alone.
Though marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes in 28 states (and the District of Columbia), the plant remains illegal under federal law. And because the TSA is a federal agency, it's reasonable to expect that it'd treat cannabis possession as a punishable offense, regardless of state-level marijuana laws. That's why the since-deleted search result took many by surprise.
"You kind of wonder what happened," Daniel Shortt, an attorney who specializes in cannabis law at the firm Harris Bricken, told ATTN:. "Maybe the person for TSA who's managing the website was actually confused about the state of the law — because it is confusing," given the conflicts in marijuana's legal status at the federal and state level.
There's still uncertainty surrounding local law enforcement protocol in legal states. Whether or not a medical marijuana patient would be prosecuted for possession largely depends on the airport. Select airports in five states have adopted post-legalization marijuana policies — including at least two, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon — that have systems in place to protect adult patients from prosecution if they travel with cannabis within the state, according to the Cannabis Law Blog.
But the majority of airports in legal states such as California do not allow passengers to travel with medical marijuana, though. Hypothetically, a medical marijuana patient could depart from San Francisco without a problem and still risk legal issues in Los Angeles, where airport policy doesn't guarantee such protections.
In the end, though, the TSA didn't suddenly loosen its rules on marijuana. And bringing weed on a plane, even in a legal state, carries a set of risks. So, if you're dead set on to packing cannabis in your carry-on bag, the safest thing to do is reach out to each airport you're traveling through ahead of time and inquire about their policies.
"With federal policy the way it, it is not advisable to bring marijuana on a plane — especially any plane that's moving from one state to another," Shortt said.