Flying and Driving with Weed: The 2013 Holidays

Flying and Driving with Weed: The 2013 Holidays


Millions of medical marijuana patients hit America’s roads this upcoming week for another hectic holiday travel season. Experts say standard common sense applies with regard to the still-federally illegal marijuana. Medical or not, don’t get caught, or it could be a hassle.


Federal statistics show 91 percent of long-distance holiday travel is by car with perhaps 43.4 million Americans traveling 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. 


“Under California law medical cannabis patients are only allowed to transport what’s reasonably related to your medical need considering distance, method and timing of transportation,” said Omar Figueroa, a cannabis-specialized attorney in Northern California. That means a personal amount, not three pounds, Figueroa notes.


“And the laws don’t travel with you,” he said. “Many times people live in the freedom bubble, they see freedom all around them, then they’re traveling to places of less freedom and they make a mistake and drop their their guard.”


For example, users of medical cannabis from California who drive sober into Nevada, Utah or Arizona are technically DUI when they cross state lines. 


In Nevada, a person is guilty of DUI if he or she is found to be driving with trace amounts of marijuana byproducts in their system. These traces can linger in the body for weeks after use. 


“This is a per se offense – impairment is not an element of the offense. The mere presence of cannabis metabolites above the threshold constitutes a crime,” NORML notes.


A first offense misdemeanor DUI in Nevada means prison of not less than 2 days or 48 hours of community service and a minimum $400 fine.


In Arizona, it is unlawful for a person to drive a vehicle while there is any drug or its metabolite in the person's body, which is a loony as it sounds. “Actual impairment is not an element of this offense. Cannabis metabolites can be detected in a person's body up to one month after use, thus it is possible to be convicted of this type of DUI weeks after a person last ingested cannabis,” NORML writes.


Ditto for Utah.


Figueroa adds that driving with more than an ounce is considered an illegal transportation felony. He advises to keep it sealed and locked up in the trunk, and don’t break any laws.


“Only break one law at a time. If you’re speeding don’t smoke weed in your car,” he said.


Or as Sacramento comedian and marijuana advice columnist Ngaio Bealum puts it, “don’t be a dumbass.”


And be especially careful around the international border, Bealum notes. Homeland Security and Customs works up to 100 miles from the border and regularly search random vehicles with drug dogs at checkpoints. The feds don’t care about a small amount of pot “unless you’re being a dick or they want to be a real jerk,” Bealum said.




As far as flying with medical cannabis, the big news in 2013 is that the Transportation Security Administration very publicly relaxed its policy with regard to marijuana. The TSA now states that they don’t look for drugs, but if they find any they’ll turn you over to local cops.


“It seems like 9-11 has been a boon to pot smokers,” Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. “I haven’t heard of people getting stopped in a quite a while.”


“They’re not looking for small amounts of weed,” said Bealum, a frequent traveler. “They’re looking for ‘a bomb’ not ‘the bomb’.”


Bealum recently got stopped walking through a Midwestern airport security checkpoint with some medical cannabis in his shirt pocket. The TSA deemed it not a threat and waved him on. 


Figueroa notes that TSA’s general pot policy is to defer to local authorities. “So, for example in Oakland they respect medical marijuana law,” he said. 


Conversely, Gieringer’s heard reports that Burbank and San Diego airports have been less respectful. Fliers can call ahead and ask for the airport’s police department policy on medical cannabis. 


If you’re going to fly with it, Figueroa recommends sealing it up tight and stashing it in some checked luggage. And don’t declare it, Figueroa said.


If you get popped, “don’t run your mouth,” Figueroa said. “If you’re taking it to someone who is sick in a non-medical marijuana state, don’t say that, because you’re going to jail.”


Gieringer said it appears OK to just carry on your person or in your checked luggage.


But again — not traveling with pot is probably the least stressful option.


Think of it as a tolerance break, and a chance to buy locally at your destination. 


“It’s not like you can’t find it in Nebraska,” Bealum said.

About The Author

David Downs's picture
David Downs

A San Francisco-based journalist who has appeared in WIRED, Rolling Stone, The Onion, The New York Times, and many other fine publications. Editorial Director of TruMedia. On twitter at @davidrdowns. Email him at [email protected]