As more and more states continue to legalize recreational marijuana, airports and travelers are being faced with occasional conflicts as state and federal laws regarding marijuana are different. Airports in Denver, Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, do not allow cannabis on the premises, however, Los Angeles International—the world’s fifth-busiest airport—now allows customers aged 21 and over to bring marijuana. This policy change was made in accordance of California’s law on personal consumption of the drug. In addition, the two largest Pacific Northwest airports: Sea-Tac and Portland International, which follow state laws in Washington and Oregon, also allow it. Bloomberg notes that the law in Oregon even allows travelers to carry marijuana on flights within the state—even though airlines prohibit marijuana.
“It’s a tangled web, for sure,” said Dave Bannard, an attorney with Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP in Boston. “Airports are having to come to grips with this in a way that nobody expected a few years ago.”
Regardless of which airport you visit, personal pot isn’t allowed beyond the security checkpoint, a federal zone where marijuana of any amount – other than a medical purpose – remains illegal. Majority of United States airlines, which travel via federal airspace, also prohibit pot aboard its flights.
The Transportation Security Administration’s primary duty is to combat terrorism, not to police drugs. When a TSA agent does encounter pot, whether it’s on a travel or in a checked luggage, they call for the airport police to handle the issue. If it’s in an airport that legalized pot, officers will typically request the traveler to dispose of it, store it in a parked vehicle, or ask a friend to take it, according to airport representatives.
“We’ve actually seen more of an increase in the checked luggage from people who don’t really understand” the California law, Pedregon said. “They go into the dispensaries and they say, ‘Oh, give me five pounds to take home to Texas with me.’” Airport police file drug charges against such high flyers about once per month, he said.
In Las Vegas, the county installed 20 “amnesty boxes” at four area airports, as well as at the McCarran Airport rental car center in February, in hopes that those who forgot to leave their bud will drop it off there. The boxes feature a a drawer-drop to keep anyone from reaching inside and are bolted into concrete. All bud collected in these boxes is destroyed by the county government. They were “used almost immediately,” according to Christine Crews, a spokeswoman for McCarran International Airport.