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Traveling with Medical Marijuana in Airports, 2012 Update

Discussion in 'Medical Marijuana Usage and Applications' started by GreenDevil420, May 9, 2012.

  1. #1 GreenDevil420, May 9, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: May 9, 2012
    Hey GrassCity, I wanted to share my recent experiences with flying out with medical marijuana, so that others may be able to understand their rights when traveling out of an MMJ-friendly state. In May of 2012, I flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and then from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the same day. I spoke in-person with both the Los Angeles Airport Police and the San Francisco Police Department about their specific policies, but I'll outline a few other airports for those who have found this page seeking an answer. 

    Here's the gist of the MMJ-Friendly California Airports:
    LAX (with possibly Ontario, Van Nuys, and Palmdale airports): CA State-issued Identification Card Only
    Oakland: State-issued Identification Card OR Immediately Verifiable Valid Medical Marijuana Recommendation
    SF: State-issued Identification Card OR Immediately Verifiable Valid Medical Marijuana Recommendation

    As a medical marijuana patient with a state-issued ID card (the one issued by your County Department of Public Health) that is in possession of under 8 ounces (or 6 plants, if they don't look at you weird), in your carry-on luggage or on your person only, there is likely little-to-zero trouble that you could get in by going through security in Los Angeles International (LAX), San Francisco International (SFO), or Oakland International Airport (OAK). The general procedure is that you check-in to your flight as normal -- no need to alert the airline or TSA ahead of time -- and then place your items through the scanner. Upon discovery of such contraband, the TSA refers such individual to the state or local police that have jurisdiction at that airport. Most airports -- and all of the airports above -- are governed by state or local police, which enforces state law (and not federal law). California's Proposition 215 in 1996 (and further with SB420 in 2003) operate with the understanding that, in general, medical marijuana patients in the state of California are still subject to arrest like anyone else unless the recommendation has been verified with the state (through the issuance of the state-issued card, per CA Health and Safety Code 11362.71).

    However, Oakland and San Francisco are two exceptions to that rule, at least when it comes to airport policy. Oakland International Airport's policy is more clear, thanks to the Alameda County Sheriffs Department, which as long as such individual can establish that he or she is a qualified patient or a primary caregiver based upon the information at hand (including a phone call to the doctor), no person shall be hassled by police, nor report to federal authorities or to the destination city. As for San Francisco International, while I cannot find the written policy, SFPD claimed that any individual that has a medical defense would go through a similar verification procedure as Oakland International. I attempted to test such policy in San Francisco; however, the TSA didn't flag the bag with the medicine in it, and thus the airport police weren't called (yeah, they didn't notice the sack of weed in my bag, and I was literally the only person they were screening at the time).

    Other airports in CA aren't so friendly, such as San Jose. Although they'll let any person with an identification card enter the airport with medical marijuana, the state authorities will file a report with federal authorities, which will choose whether or not to pursue legal action (under federal penalties). As a general precaution, this procedure should be expected in any California airport, with obvious exception for the three listed above.

    If you're looking for MMJ-friendly airports in other areas besides California, and can establish a medical defense in accordance with the respective state laws, people have found little issue traveling with MMJ out of Washington's Sea-Tac (Seattle) and Montana (pre-2011 law change), and places like Canada allow you to vaporize in airports.

    Bottom line -- If you're a California resident, get a state-issued identification card (ranging from $100-150, valid for one year), and you won't be cited, arrested or miss your flight if it's in your carry-on (not checked!) at Los Angeles, San Francisco or Oakland. You will likely not encounter issues on the other side, unless both a drug-sniffing dog points you out (very unlikely, as the dogs you generally see at airports are bomb-sniffing) and it's illegal to possess MMJ in your destination state (or via point). If you travel through SFO or OAK without a verifiable medical marijuana recommendation or identification card, you'll be cited under state law for marijuana possession ($100 fine + court costs), the police will confiscate your stash, and you can prove your defense later in court.

    Further reading:

    Oakland -- Got Pot? It's Legal to Take It on the Plane in Oakland | Drugs | AlterNet
    San Francisco & San Jose -- ASA : Medical marijuana patients can travel with pot from SFO, other Bay Area airports
    Los Angeles -- MedicalMarijuanaPolicies
    Washington -- Man Gets Out Medical Marijuana At TSA Checkpoint, Gets Through - Toke of the Town
    Canada -- Canada: Marijuana Patients Allowed To Vape In Airports, Planes - Toke of the Town
    Montana -- Report: Medical Marijuana Now Allowed In Airports - Toke of the Town

  2. Great info, thanks for sharing
  3. Thanks

  4. TSA..always on the job, groping and probing kids and little old ladies...ya...feeling so safe...
    Not surprised the TSA missed that ingeniously stealthy smuggling operation tactic you engaged in...maybe you should have hidden the sack of weed inside some stuffed toy animals...or a tin of cupcakes...they would have let you go either way I am sure....but the cupcake icing would need to be detained...sneaky suspicious icing...;):p
  5. Hey, thanks for the updates. I've been following these developments for a while.

    I was wondering if anyone has experience flying out of Denver DIA?

    As far as SFO and Oakland, do they deny you depending on destination (i.e. to a non-medical state or a medical state without reciprocity?)
  6. What about those without State-issued cards?
    Those who only have a doctors recommendation and the doctors-issued card.
  7. #7 GreenDevil420, May 9, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: May 9, 2012
    State and City/airport police SFO and Oakland, upon establishing that a medical defense is valid (either through them calling the doctor or verifying your state-issued card), will not cite or arrest the patient, nor report such individual to federal authorities or alert the destination city, regardless of destination. The Los Angeles airport police person hinted that destination city may be of concern; however, the written policy that LAX maintains is quite clear:

    "It is the policy of the Los Angeles Airport Police Division to ensure that individuals in possession of verified Medical Marijuana Identification Cards, pursuant to Section 11362.71 H&S, shall not be detained longer than necessary to verify the information on the Identification Card nor shall their prescribed quantity of marijuana be confiscated."

    For those without Identification Cards, you will be cited by the LAX Airport police (as has happened to many celebrities who claim the medical defense, even with paperwork). Upon going to court (at a later date), you can prove your medical defense through presenting your original recommendation and/or by having your doctor present, and possibly get your medication returned to you. If you cannot prove such defense, then the penalty for possession of under 1oz = ~$175 fine after fees, and >1oz = $650 and up to 6 months in county jail. No matter what, if you're in possession of under one ounce and encounter police trouble at the screening checkpoint, you will not miss your flight if you fly out of LAX or most CA airports.

    The potential fine would cost more than the cost of the identification card, and going to court to battle it out takes time and energy. The privacy concerns with California's state ID program have all turned out to be unfounded, and the contents of the card, nor the number, don't even reveal your name when you present such to authorities. In all honesty, I am more concerned with dispensaries and collectives/cooperatives using my information fraudulently than the government, which under this program requires extreme patient confidentiality under HIPAA.

    With this card, you get statewide arrest protection for marijuana possession and cultivation of up to 8 ounces or 6 plants. In addition, you can fly with MMJ out of at least six CA airports without governmental intrusion or asset forfeiture, and can walk down the street and medicate in public wherever smoking tobacco is legal (except in a moving automobile). With a $50/year recommendation plus the cost of the state-card ($50-150 per year depending on where you live and if you're covered under Medi-Cal), that totals $100-200/year, or $8.33 to $17 a month, for some kick-ass protections. The card is definitely not for everyone, and doesn't provide protections in other states (except for Arizona and one or two other MMJ states), but in my personal legal opinion and based on hearing other's experiences, I wouldn't trust the ability and willingness of police to verify a doctor's recommendation at any CA airport or cities except for SF, Oakland, and possibly Berkeley.

  8. I live in AZ and it's small enough that you would never fly from city to city. But I have to wonder why would bother to take a chance at all if you could just get off the plane in San Fran and have meds delivered?

    I travel to and from CA a lot so I have an AZ card and an CA Rec. I have wondered about going to other states on trips though and when that is needed I either find a hook up when I get there or I drive.

    But that's me.

    This info is great to have. Thanks for taking the time to do the Leg work. I need to find out what AZ says about flying from here to Ca. I think the hang up would be that Ca does not recognize any other states MMJ program. If that is the case you would not be able to fly into Ca from anyplace with your meds. I think if they let me on the plane I would not have a problem beings I have the CA Rec.

  9. Because I'm not going to san fran, I'm headed to Orlando, FL...

  10. The OP was about flying from LAX to SFO. And if you could fly with meds. I never said anything about going to Florida.
  11. But you know what I do know about flying into Florida airports.

    Couple years ago I flew into Ft Lauderdale from Jamaica. As I was walking through the airport a Cocker Spaniel started humping my leg. They took me back to a TSA holding area and searched my bags.

    So the Feds can stop you where ever they want in the airport.
  12. Really Cooper of you to put your freedom on the line to share this.
  13. Yeah. uh hey guys - we can't discuss concealing MJ for travelling on an airplane - that's considered trafficking and is not allowed.

  14. #14 GreenDevil420, Jun 9, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 9, 2012
    I'm flying to a non-MMJ friendly state from LAX here in a few weeks (with my trusty identification card and probably some meds). I'll grab a clarification from the folks at LAX beforehand as to how they're handling MMJ travelers to other states. My hunch is that they'll be hands-off with a warning that possessing that in another state "may" be unlawful, as I believe their formal written policy from 2007 was meant to address.

    However -- if you're flying out of SFO or Oakland with MMJ, given the conditions originally posted, you won't be hassled at those departure airports, regardless of (United States) destination, nor will the destination airport be notified. (See: Internet)

    If you're on the fence, yet you have an MMJ recommendation in your state, always call the airport police ahead of time to ask for clarification about airport policy with regard to "your friend's" MMJ traveling situation. Los Angeles Airport Police Non-Emergency Contact: (310) 646-4268.
  15. Just checked back over here and see some of the post deleted. Did not realize talking about it actually being legal to fly and how to go about it and where to put it was trafficking.
    Guess we shouldn't talk about having in in our cars and everyone who does not live in a Legal state should not talk about it at all? Sorry either way.
  16. All right gang, I just got off the phone with LA Airport Police. I gave him the situation: "I am a medical marijuana patient, and am traveling to Chicago within the next few weeks. I would like to know [Los Angeles International] Airport policy regarding the handling of medical marijuana in carry on items."

    I began my scenario by telling him "I am in possession of a valid identification card issued by the Department of Public Health" and he quickly cut me off saying "Yessir, that's all you need!" I got the idea he gets that question a lot, so I asked him a few more follow up questions. I asked him if the destination city matters at all, or if a report is filed with the TSA, both of which he confidently replied to with "No". However, he did start to bleed the TSA prescription drug requirements with recommended medical marijuana, mentioning that the container should be properly labeled with the doctor and clinic that the medication was from. I told him that such scenario would be improbable if not impossible given the current federal illegality, to which he replied "then the state-issued medical marijuana card would be all that is needed. You won't miss your flight, it will only take a couple of minutes to verify and you'll be on your way!"

    It's easier to travel with state-issued medical marijuana than with prescription drugs within LAX. You can't make this up.

    I didn't ask about regular non-state verified, but my answer would be that you're rolling the dice even if the officer on the other side had said "yes." I say that because they're only legally (and also airport policy) required to let you through the screening point with your medical marijuana if you have the state-issued Medical Marijuana Identification Card issued by your county. I heard of at least one public-esque figure that got busted with medical marijuana even when he had his doctor's recommendation on him. It's LAX, don't risk it unless you have the state-issued card, or nothing to lose.
  17. I have a question, a recommendation from a doctor is NOT a state-issued card, am I correct?

  18. Nope. State-issued card is handled by your county Department of Public Health. The county office is not open all hours or all days. In fact, most only have someone working the window or appointments for a few hours twice or three times a week. Los Angeles County is Tuesday - Thursday, 8am-12pm and 1pm-4pm. Call ahead of time; if you're a CA resident with a CA licensed doctor's recommendation, you qualify for the card. The bummer is that it is ~$150 for the card if you don't have Medi-Cal insurance, but the upside is that you're free to transport up to a half pound in a vehicle within the state of California, and fly out of at least a few airports with your medication with zero harassment, arrest or seizure by any CA law enforcement.

    More information here.
  19. Thanks for the information, would there be any benefits to upgrading my recommendation to a state-issued card other than zero harassment when transporting?
  20. #20 GreenDevil420, Jun 22, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 22, 2012
    The whole point of the card is to have a sure-fire way of full arrest protection within the state (and other states that accept them, unlike the general non-verified recommendation) for 1/2 pound, or 6 mature plants. Any state cardholder can walk down most any street and smoke cannabis like it's tobacco, and not fear arrest or punishment by any state or local authority. Any state cardholder can fly out of LAX, SFO or Oakland and take their meds anywhere in the continental US without any trouble from CA authorities. As most of the trouble/interaction with TSA occurs at the screening process, it is very likely that, unless you reek of dank, you'll be fine at your destination for those five minutes you're in the airport.

    That being said, without the state-card, you're still free to go down to the courthouse with your unverified recommendation and fight your weed ticket, or if you possess hash or plants, a misdemeanor or felony charge, and you'll likely be granted your defense if your doctor is available or provides a notarized or formal written recommendation. You'll likely have a specific time that you go to the courthouse, and you'll wait through a caseload of issues, and then you'll be processed. In by 7am or 8am, out by 1 or 2pm, no fine/fees. If your defense fails, you'll be paying more in fines than you would have paid for the state card in the first place (~$175).

    I don't advocate getting the card out of guilt. In fact, it's bull that pollice officers don't verify every written medical recommendation. I had resisted getting the card until this year, but a (now previous) employer said they would have accepted the medical marijuana card as a verified excuse to waive drug tests. I have since gone with a different employer, but I am traveling a lot throughout the state, and I don't really have the time or energy to deal with the police and unnecessary tickets with my new gig. To me, it was worth taking time to go into the city and pick up this card.

    Less than 1/10th of the MMJ population actually gets the state card. If you keep to yourself, have small amounts, and most of all be respectful, most reasonable CA cops are going to end up letting you go (if you even interact with them at all).

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