Whether you're embarking on a hazy journey to a state where adult-use cannabis is legal, or trying to decipher the marijuana laws of interstate travel, knowing the ins and outs that come with traveling with weed can be the difference maker between a trip to paradise and a vacation nightmare.
When considering whether you'll be flying with edibles, riding a bus with a vape pen, or driving with weed, the way to make the safest choice is by doing substantive research. Even for cannabis tourists flocking to states with well-established medical or adult-use (aka “recreational”) markets, there are still plenty of ways that an ill-informed decision can damper your pot pilgrimage.
Each aspect of your travel plan will affect your approach to flying with CBD oil, vaping on that cruise, or bringing an eighth on your road trip. When planning your trip, you should always consider:
- Where are you going?
- How are you getting there?
- Where are you staying?
If you're planning on bringing weed with you, or even purchasing cannabis products once you arrive, knowing what to consider regarding the transport, storage, and consumption of your stash should be included when making your travel itinerary.
Where Are You Traveling?
Whether you're flying, taking a train, or driving, the most important thing you need to determine is whether weed is legal in the state you're traveling to. This doesn't just pertain to recreational marijuana, but also the legal status of medical marijuana and hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD). For instance, some states allow out-of-state medical marijuana patients to obtain temporary licenses to purchase from dispensaries through reciprocity policies, while others don't.
States with Adult-Use Marijuana
Take note of cannabis purchasing and possession limits — even in states with a full-fledged adult-use framework in place, the amounts will vary from state to state. Some counties and municipalities in legal states may have more restrictive regulations than others, so check the laws for each county that is along your travel route. This will help you navigate where you can buy legal cannabis and whether you can lawfully carry or consume it.
Keep in mind that while public consumption is typically illegal in adult-use states, you might be hard pressed to find a hotel or house rental that permits smoking weed indoors. For those planning to visit an adult-use state, consider booking a weed-friendly hotel or rental property, if possible.
States with Medical Marijuana
Even if you're a registered medical patient in your home state, check the reprecitory laws for the state you're visiting to know what's legal medically, especially whether you can use your medical marijuana card to receive temporary authorization to purchase and use medical marijuana. Be sure to review the marijuana laws and regulations of the medical state you plan to visit ahead of your trip.
The requirements for obtaining a temporary medical marijuana license out of state differ by state, so don't make any assumptions on reciprocity. Some states, such as Oklahoma, allow patients with a valid out-of-state medical marijuana card to obtain a temporary 30-day license to legally acquire medical marijuana products while visiting. Illinois, on the other hand, currently has no reciprocity law in place to accept out-of-state medical marijuana patients, so only state residents can legally purchase medical cannabis.
Give yourself ample time to scope out the medical marijuana laws ahead of the trip, as you may need to apply for a temporary medical marijuana card, a process that could take an extended amount of time to complete. Hawaii, for example, will accept applications up to 60 days ahead of your travel date and the Department of Health notes applications are reviewed in the order received and can't be expedited.
Even if a state offers reciprocity to out-of-state patients, that doesn't give travelers free rein to cross state lines with legally purchased medical cannabis. Since cannabis is still federally classified as a Schedule I drug, medical marijuana patients can still put themselves in a risky situation when they're under federal jurisdiction, such as at an airport or state borders.
States that have Decriminalized Marijuana Possession
Unfortunately, there's no lawful way for travelers to bring cannabis to a destination where possession and use is illegal, even if the state has opted to decriminalize weed, softening the consequences for possessing small amounts for personal use. Some states, such as New York and Illinois, have decriminalized cannabis, but have not yet legalized adult-use or medical marijuana. In a state where weed is decriminalized, possessing small amounts of cannabis — the amount of which depends on the specific state law — doesn't typically result in jail or prison time, but instead carries a fine.
What's Your Mode of Transportation?
If you plan on bringing weed along for the trip, take your mode of transportation into consideration. Are you taking a Greyhound bus through multiple states? Flying across the country? Driving in a rental car? Understanding the rules and regulations involved with each will help you make a safe and well-informed decision.
Traveling with Weed in a Car
When it comes to driving with cannabis across state lines, the language of the law is plain and simple: it's a federal offense. Even if you're driving between two recreational states that border one another, such as Oregon and Washington, the practice of crossing the border with weed still technically falls within the jurisdiction of the federal government.
As thousands of commuters make this type of trek each day along the West Coast, is it likely that federal agents will be saddled up at the border between two legal states waiting for unsuspecting drivers with pot in the car? Michael Cindrich, a San Diego-based marijuana attorney and founder of the Law Offices of Michael E. Cindrich APC, has never heard of a case where someone was prosecuted for bringing cannabis across the border of two legal states. He has, however, witnessed scenarios where drivers in California end up on a road that stretches across federal lands or parks, suddenly (and sometimes unwittingly) putting them under federal jurisdiction.
“Within these states sometimes you end up on a highway or road and that road happens to travel through a federal park, and before you know it you're on federal land,” Cindrich told Weedmaps News. “You may be transporting cannabis that was legal under state law, but now you've found yourself in federal jurisdiction and it's a different story.”
Once you're driving from one city to another, all within a state that has legalized adult-use cannabis, the laws become less restrictive, though there are certain nuances to consider. While states with adult-use will typically allow drivers to travel with legal amounts of cannabis, it ultimately depends on where you're traveling.
In California, for example, having marijuana stored in your vehicle is legal as long as you are at least 21 years old and carrying less than 1 ounce, or about 28.5 grams, of marijuana, or less than 4 grams of concentrates. What many travelers don't know, however, is that the state also has an open-container law in place regarding cannabis. According to Health and Safety Code Section 11362.3, which is included in Proposition 64, it's illegal to “possess an open container or open package of cannabis or cannabis products while driving, operating, or riding in the passenger seat or compartment of a motor vehicle, boat, vessel, aircraft, or other vehicle used for transportation.” In other words, once your tear the seal off of the cannabis package, you're not allowed to drive around with it in the driver or passenger area of your car.
“The general advice for people would be to not possess any open containers, not bring any open containers of cannabis with you,” Cindrich said. “Under some circumstances, it's difficult not to have an open container. If that's the case, we'd recommend putting it in a closed container and in your trunk.”
Driving while high is both illegal and dangerous and even having the lingering smell of marijuana in your vehicle can prompt a police officer to conduct a sobriety test on you and search your vehicle.
“One of the other things that they're looking for is the burnt smell of marijuana, because that would lead them to believe that someone had recently consumed,” Cindrich said. “If you've recently consumed, they might pull you out of the vehicle for a DUI evaluation, and in doing so, check your vehicle for any evidence that you recently consumed.”
Even in states like California, your experience during a traffic stop can range from county to county. Cindrich explained that in some areas of California, such as the roads leading out of the Emerald Triangle's legendary cultivation hub, local police will be on the lookout for drivers who possibly have cannabis in the vehicle. The same goes for counties that have more restrictive cannabis laws despite statewide legalization.
“As you get to the areas that are dry and more conservative, you're going to have police that are watching for people that may be traveling through their city or county from elsewhere, they're going to be looking for signs that a person may be tied to cannabis or the cannabis industry,” Cindrich said. “Oftentimes, those people are more likely to be pulled over and harassed by law enforcement.”
Things can get a little more complicated when you're cruising up the Pacific Coast or through the Rocky Mountains in a rental car. For instance, some rental car companies have a policy in place to charge you with cleaning fees if the car smells like weed upon return. According to customer service representatives at Hertz rental car at LAX, the company charges a $300 fee when a returned vehicle contains the smell of marijuana. These potential fines will vary by agency and state, so consult with your rental car company about the penalties before you decide to bring weed along for the ride.
Another unintended consequence of transporting cannabis in a rental car is that it could raise suspicion from local law enforcement, especially if the vehicle has an out-of-state license plate.
“I think rental cars can accelerate a normal traffic situation into something where the police are looking for further evidence of illegal activity,” Cindrich said.
Traveling with Weed in a Plane
Thinking of flying with a vape pen? You should consider the policies of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), airport, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before packing.
Although the Transportation Security Administration medical marijuana policy states that “TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs” during a security screening, when searches are conducted for other reasons, TSA agents are required to report any suspected violations of the law, referring the matter to local law enforcement if they come across any cannabis products.
“The wild card of course is what the local law is regarding marijuana,” said David Y. Bannard, a Boston-based attorney who specializes in airport regulations and compliance. “In a state where recreational use is legal, it's entirely likely that the local law enforcement will ask you to dispose or otherwise get rid of it before boarding the plane. If you're in a jurisdiction where marijuana is not legal, then you may be prosecuted.”
The TSA recently changed its cannabis policy regarding hemp-derived CBD, however, stating that these products may now be carried on planes under certain circumstances.
“Products/medications that contain hemp-derived CBD or are approved by the FDA are legal as long as it is produced within the regulations defined by the law under the Agriculture Improvement Act 2018,” a section states. This should apply to flying with oil cartridges for vaporizers, as long as the oil is hemp-derived.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has a policy in place allowing visitors to possess up to about 1 ounce, or 28.5 grams, of flower or 8 grams of concentrates at the airport. However, the policy doesn't cover you once you board the airplane, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Even if you're traveling from California to Washington, without ever flying over a state where marijuana is illegal, bringing cannabis on your flight is still illegal.
“The FAA pretty much has undisputed jurisdiction over federal airways,” Bannard explained. “So, even though you may be flying from Seattle to Los Angeles, over Oregon and states that have legalized marijuana, the fact that you're in federal airways gives the FAA some jurisdiction there.”
Additionally, just because you're in a legal state doesn't mean you can legally set foot in an airport with weed. Marijuana possession or use is strictly prohibited at the Denver International Airport (DIA), according to the Colorado airport's most recent passenger conduct policy. At the same time, cannabis smuggling arrests at LAX have risen by 166% in 2018, according to Los Angeles Airport Police records, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. In this case, smugglers are defined as those who tried to bring more than the legal possession limit in their checked luggage or carry-on bag.
Another common sense policy to be wary of is that travelers bringing legally purchased cannabis to an airport in a state where cannabis is illegal can be prosecuted according to state laws. “If it's illegal in your home state, it's illegal in your home state,” Bannard said. “Just because you've got it in California, transporting it from L.A. to your home state doesn't make it legal.”If it's illegal in your home state, it's illegal in your home state. Just because you've got it in California, transporting it from L.A. to your home state doesn't make it legal. - David Y. Bannard Click To Tweet
Traveling with Weed by Train, Bus, or Boat
When it comes to trains, intercity buses, and boats, it seems that the companies that offer transportation services have restrictive policies when it comes to bringing cannabis products onboard. For example, bringing cannabis is not permitted on Amtrak trains, even in legal states.
“The use or transportation of marijuana in any form for any purpose is prohibited [on Amtrak trains], even in states or countries where recreational use is legal or permitted medically,” Olivia Irvin, Public Relations Manager for Amtrak, said in a statement to Weedmaps News. This would also apply to the three Amtrak lines that stay entirely within California: the Capitol Corridor in Sacramento and the Bay Area, the Pacific Surfliner in Southern California, and the San Joaquin in Central and Northern California. It also applies to the Cascades, which services Oregon and Washington.
Many bus services have a similar policy in place, even when passengers are traveling within legal boundaries. On Greyhound buses marijuana, possession isn't allowed, even if the entire route remains within the confines of a legal state.
Other major bus lines that operate in the U.S., such as Peter Pan, Megabus, and Flixbus, may have similar policies in place. If you plan on traveling by bus or train through a legal state, it's best to contact the specific transportation company and ask about its cannabis policy before getting onboard with weed.
Many cruise ship lines have strict policies to slap hefty fines on travelers for smoking weed onboard. Carnival Cruise Line, for example, established an amended set of rules in November 2018 that would fine passengers up to $500 for using cannabis on the ship and may even get them kicked off entirely.
“Carnival recognizes that some state and local governments in the U.S., and in the destinations we visit, might allow marijuana use. However, Carnival Cruise Line follows U.S. federal law, which strictly prohibits possession and use of recreational/medicinal marijuana and other illegal controlled substances,” the policy states.
The cruise line's policy also states that if a passenger is disembarked for violating this policy, they're fully responsible for all necessary expenses to return home.
“We do not allow marijuana on board our ships,” said Vance Gulliksen, Public Relations Manager for Carnival Corp.
How Should You Store Your Weed While Traveling?
If you've found out that you can legally bring weed with you on your trip, congratulations, now you just need to consider storage. There's no understating the importance of containing the smell, no matter the mode of transportation or final destination. Using odor-proof containers and bags will keep any away unwanted attention and show respect for fellow travelers who might not be fond of the aroma.
You can find a variety of odor-proof storage products at your local head shop or online including discrete items such as a Smart Stash Pouch or Bomber Case. Even a Smelly Proof reusable bag will work.
Once you have your stash safely packaged in an odor-proof container or bag, the final step is deciding where to keep your weed during the trip.
When driving, a general rule is to pack your weed away in the trunk of the car. Even in a legal state such as California, having an open container of cannabis in the front area of the car can still land you into trouble.
Many hotels have a private safe to store valuable personal belongings in, and can be utilized to safely store odor-proof containers or bags. Finally, if you decide to pack some weed in your suitcase, make sure it's properly situated in the odor-proof container.
No matter where your travels take you, it's always smart to be discreet, safe, and responsible when taking cannabis along for the journey.
Want to avoid all the hassle and stress of transporting cannabis products? Sign up for a free account on Weedmaps to find the best dispensaries, storefronts, doctors, and deals wherever you're traveling. For guidance on what to look for, Weedmaps Learn has you covered.
Disclaimer: Today, cannabis still remains classified as a Schedule I drug at the federal level and possessing it carries inherent risks. This is an educational guide and does not provide legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for legal counsel from a licensed attorney.
Feature image by Dino Reichmuth