Can we all slow our collective roll just a little bit?
I know weed is now legal in the Golden State, with new businesses and products popping up at a Whack-A-Mole pace, but some of us are clearly getting a bit carried away. This is a notion that's been nagging at me for some time but which came into startling clarity last week in the form of 12 individually-packaged one pound bags of Humboldt's finest allegedly pulled from the luggage of 36-year-old Michael Mogensen by a Transportation Security Administration official at the California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport.
Now many news outlets had a bit of fun with the story — especially the part about Mogensen being allowed to board his flight after sheriff's deputies seized the marijuana, wrote him a citation and referred his case on to the FBI and DEA — but it also illustrates that some are having trouble traversing this new world order. With that in mind, here's a quick primer on what's at stake when you bring weed into an airport.
First and foremost, we should start with what Proposition 64 actually does. It makes it legal to possess up to one ounce of pot. Possessing 192 times that amount — as Mogensen allegedly did — is still illegal for anyone without a commercial license from the state or a medical recommendation. That's an easy one.
But what cannabis enthusiasts should expect when they interface with TSA and airport security is a bit more complicated.
A co-worker — who incidentally doesn't imbibe the sticky icky — recently returned from a journalism conference in Portland, happy to report that she'd brought back a niftily packaged pre-rolled joint because, well, they were giving them away as conference swag. (Yes, we have officially taken things way too far.) Plus, she said she didn't see any risk in boarding a plane in one legalized state and landing in another.
So just what is the legality of flying with weed?
Well, it turns out the TSA caused quite a stir a few months back on this very topic when a rogue intern or a software glitch, depending on whom you believe, switched its frequently-asked-questions page to indicate medical marijuana was OK to bring in checked or carry-on luggage. It, in fact, is not, and the TSA page has been corrected appropriately.
The plain fact of the matter is that secure airport areas beyond TSA checkpoints are under federal control, and the feds still consider cannabis a Schedule 1 substance, no matter the state. That makes it illegal to fly with marijuana. Period. But let's be honest, it's also illegal to jaywalk, right?
The consensus on the subject seems to be that TSA is quite busy looking for bombs and terrorists. It's not the DEA and could largely care less about your pot. Agency protocol states that a TSA agent who finds marijuana in someone's luggage is to call in local law enforcement. In Humboldt's case, that means the sheriff's office.
In 2015, a couple of years after Colorado legalized recreational weed, TSA officials stopped 29 people for possession of marijuana at the Denver International Airport, according to a story in the New York Times. Each time, the local police asked the flier to dispose of the pot — either by throwing it out or taking it home — and all 29 complied. Not a single citation was issued.
In most online threads, the consensus seems to be that if you are flying either within a legal state or from one to another where cannabis is legal, it's safe to bring a bit of pot with you. Just bring a sensible, legal amount and pack it discreetly without doing something stupid that's sure to draw the attention of TSA — like hollowing out your deodorant and sticking your joints inside. And if you're a medical patient, you should include a copy of your recommendation with your weed wherever you pack it.
Most agree that the worst that will happen is an ornery official finding your stash and alerting an ornery peace officer who will tell you to get rid of your weed before flying. But know that you are breaking the law, which leaves you at the mercy of bureaucratic discretion — which is never the most comfortable place to be.
But, please, whatever you do, don't check 12 pounds of weed in your luggage. That almost assuredly will never end well.
. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.