Travelling with Cannabis in the US and Canada: What to Know Before Your Next Trip
With medical and recreational cannabis laws gaining ground, more and more people are curious about the legal dos and don’ts when it comes to traveling with weed. Here’s what you need to know before you pack.
Welcome to 2018. Self-driving cars can deliver pizza, robots can run, someone named Alexa is listening to your conversations, and cannabis is gaining mainstream acceptance. After decades of persecution, you can now travel around and partake in the finest ganja this nation has to offer. So, get up and go!
Well, not so fast. Apparently, there are laws and procedures still in place in all jurisdictions that can turn your weedcation into a traumatic experience. If you are traveling from Canada to the US via air, ground, or sea, the rules are simple: leave all cannabis products, medical or recreational, at home. Associating yourself at all with cannabis at the US border may result in a lifetime ban. Here are some tips to ensure your next trip stays happy and hazy.
Ever since 9/11, the Transportation Security Association (TSA) and Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) have been on high alert looking for the next terrorist threat. If you’ve flown in that time, you know all about the dreaded TSA shuffle and the laundry list of banned items that can make even the most seasoned traveler second-guess their packing decisions. But did you know cannabis is on that list? The TSA (a federal agency) makes it clear that it is illegal to cross borders with cannabis, even if you have a medical prescription or are flying between legal states. The penalties for first-time offenders range from six months to a year in jail, fines up to $1,000, or a combination of both.
As TSA screening procedures are focused on security, officers don’t search your baggage for marijuana or other drugs. But, let’s say you forget the hidden stash of bud in your backpack and a security officer comes across it. According to the agency’s website, TSA personnel must “refer the matter to a law enforcement officer” as they are “required to report any suspected violations of law, including possession of marijuana and cannabis-infused products.” Within a legal state, this may not be a big deal, but in states with draconian canna laws, this could ruin your Thanksgiving trip to grandma’s house. So, the golden rule here is to always double check your luggage.
Driving in the US
As with flying, driving across state borders with cannabis is a federal crime. On your highway journey, you may encounter agricultural checkpoints and local law enforcement. Agents in the former are looking for invasive plants and animals, and like TSA officers, they turn over any bud found in your car to local law enforcement. Just like in airports, you are subject to the laws of that state regardless of your prescription or home state laws. Whether you can continue your journey with or without your bud is at the discretion of law enforcement.
Because cannabis will be legal federally in Canada, traveling province to province with cannabis will not pose an issue. However, just like alcohol, there are different ages of majority laws province to province.
Medical Marijuana Patients
Preparing to travel as an MMJ patient raises many questions. Will your prescription be valid in another state? How much can you carry? Will you have access to concentrates, edibles, or flowers, and is that cannabis medical-grade? What documentation should you bring?
Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana. However, each state has its own unique laws that patients must follow. Laws can even change from county to county. In the span of a few miles, you can travel between a cannabis-friendly town where you can medicate freely, then find yourself in a dry county where you could be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
If traveling within your state, bring your medical marijuana card, your doctor’s recommendation, photo ID, and any other supporting documents. Bring the originals if possible and carry them with you and your stash. If traveling out of state, do your research. Call dispensaries within your destination state to see if they can honor your medical card. If they can’t and you must register within your destination state before you can access any medical marijuana, plan to bring documentation from your doctor supporting your medical claim. Dispensaries are also excellent resources on the local vibe concerning cannabis. Another great resource for this is norml.org and your destination state’s official website.
When you finally make it to your destination and get your hands on some ganja, there are a few things to know before you light up. First, all legal recreational and medical marijuana states prohibit cannabis consumption in public locations. This means everywhere other than private property. If you’re couch surfing with family or friends, great. If you’re staying in hotels, this can be a frustrating experience. Smoke up and you risk fines, being kicked out, or having the hotel call law enforcement.
Things are changing though. Some hotels in legal states now allow smoking in their rooms, though many only offer this service through cannabis tour operators. There are also 420-friendly Airbnb rentals as the company doesn’t have a policy against the use and/or consumption of marijuana. To find these listings, apply the “smoking allowed” search filter and individually inquire if the property description doesn’t spell it out.
If there are no cannabis-friendly hotels or Airbnb rentals near your destination, try a marijuana social lounge. These spaces, which are often concentrated within metropolitan areas, allow ganja lovers a chance to inhale and relax while socializing with other 420 fans. Many also host game and movie nights and sports viewing events.
Sometimes your eyes are bigger than your lungs, so you could have excess cannabis at the end of your trip. However, dumping it isn’t always easy. As cannabis is still a Schedule I Controlled Substance in the US, merely throwing it away can get you in hot water. You have options, however. Some airports provide 420 amnesty boxes, like those found at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where you can dump your excess stash, no questions asked. You could also spread the wealth and give away your leftovers to other 420 lovers. Be mindful in this practice, however, as many medical patients are only allowed to get their cannabis from licensed dispensaries.
Canadians traveling to and within the US need only keep one thing in mind: leave all medical and recreational marijuana at home. As Canadian law relaxes, US law remains strictly enforced with heavy fines and jail time.
(Get more information on legalization in Canada, check out Canada Is Set To Legalize Recreational Cannabis By July 2018 or 3 Major Hurdles Facing Canadian Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in 2018)
Written by Isaac Cedillo
Isaac Cedillo is a California-based marketer and freelance writer with love for all things green and creative. He holds his bachelor’s degree from CSU Fresno and is currently pursuing his MBA in marketing. As an avid photographer, Isaac loves to travel the country and chronicle his adventures through his camera.