An official policy change at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) allows passengers traveling through the airport with marijuana, in accordance with California’s marijuana regulations, to avoid arrest, at least by the airport’s police officers.
The policy change is just now getting media attention, despite having been in place since January 1, 2018. The official policy statement was posted on the official LAX website, and reads:
As of January 1, 2018, California law allows for individuals 21 years of age or older to possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana for personal consumption. With the change in state law, the policy and procedures of the Los Angeles Airport Police Division (APD) regarding marijuana were updated to reflect this change. APD officers, who are California Peace Officers, have no jurisdiction to arrest individuals if they are complying with state law. However, airport guests should be aware that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening stations are under federal jurisdiction. Also, passengers should be aware that marijuana laws vary state by state and they are encouraged to check the laws of the states in which they plan to travel.
While marijuana is currently legal in some form in the majority of states, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Travelers at LAX are allowed to carry the amount of marijuana permitted in California (up to 28.5 grams of flower, which is roughly an ounce; or up to 8 grams of concentrated marijuana) through the public areas of the airport that fall under the city’s supervision. However, once travelers arrive at security checkpoints, federal regulations take effect, as they are under the control of the TSA, which is run by the federal government.
The TSA has a policy covering medical marijuana which reinforces their position that marijuana and cannabis infused products (specifically mentioning cannabidiol [CBD] oil as well) remain illegal under federal law, and stating that while TSA security officers are not specifically searching for marijuana or other illegal drugs, “in the event a substance that appears to be marijuana or a cannabis infused product is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”
As there is a clear conflict between the airport policy, state law, and the federal government’s classification of cannabis, Alicia Hernandez, a spokesperson for the APD told the LA Times, “We are California peace officers and we enforce California law, so if we come across individuals carrying substances that are legal under state law, there is nothing we can do.”
A spokesperson for the TSA stated that the TSA’s emphasis remains on terrorism and threats to public safety, and that if a TSA Officer were to discover an item that may be in violation of federal law during the course of the security screenings, the matter will be referred to local authorities. Given that the APD or the Los Angeles Police Department would then be responsible for proceeding with prosecution, it seems that so long as travelers at LAX are in compliance with state laws regarding possession amounts in the public areas of the airport, no charges would be filed.
Hernandez also told the Sacramento Bee, “Based on our policy, we’re not going to arrest you or confiscate marijuana.” In the event that the TSA comes across a legal amount of marijuana in baggage or on a traveler, “We’re not going to be taking any action against you for having that marijuana.”
Flying out of California into another state might be problematic for passengers, as transporting any amount of marijuana across state borders remains illegal under federal law and would fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government (specifically, the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA]).
Other airports have their own ways of managing marijuana and cannabis products in states where adult and medical use is tolerated. Denver International Airport (DIA), for example, has a policy prohibiting marijuana possession and consumption, as well as a broad banning of sales and advertising of marijuana businesses and paraphernalia. McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada has placed “amnesty boxes” that allow for the disposal of recreational and prescription drugs prior to security screening. In contrast, Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) has no specific policies in support of or against marijuana possession.