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What happens if airport security finds cannabis in your bag

Published Mar 31, 2023 09:00 a.m. ET
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Traveling can be a fun, exciting, educational experience that creates memories to last a lifetime, but if you’re flying to your destination, then you’ll have to contend with airport security, which can be a little bit nerve-wracking especially if you’re a cannabis consumer who wants to bring your stash along for the ride.

The first thing we need to stress is that doing this is still illegal, even though many states and countries have fully legalized its use for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Some flyers make the mistake of assuming it’s safe to travel with cannabis as long as they’re going from one legal country or state to another, but this is simply not the case, and there are very few exceptions to this rule.

However, we know that many people bring cannabis products with them on planes every day, or at the very least attempt to. Some are medical users afraid of not having access to the products or strains they need to get relief, while others are merely concerned about the quality of access or lack thereof they might discover only after landing. A few are simply trying to save a few bucks by carrying buds they’ve grown at home.

No matter what your reason for taking this risk might be, it’s important to understand the consequences individuals may face if they’re caught trying to take cannabis on a plane. For that reason in this article, we’ll look at the process and potential consequences of being caught with cannabis by airport security.

The process

So what happens if airport security finds cannabis in your bag? Well, that depends on the policies and procedures in place at the airport as well as the amount of cannabis that is discovered. In many cases, if cannabis products are discovered at some point during the screening process law enforcement will be called as they are legally responsible for handling these criminal situations.

At this point, while security is standing by until the responding officers arrive, they may keep you in place or they could escort you to a private room. There is no way to leave and no point in trying, as the law has already been broken, so the only thing left to do is patiently await the repercussions.

Once the officers show up their number one goal will be to ensure you don’t have any other contraband hidden away, so you can expect them to thoroughly search your luggage, which means opening any containers or bags that may be inside. Law enforcement may also ask some questions pertaining to where the cannabis was purchased, and why you were bringing it with you. It is important to note that you always have the right to remain silent, but in some cases doing so might work against you.

Some very lucky travelers have been let off easy by convincing the officers they have a completely honest and legitimate reason for  breaking the rules. However, most are immediately slapped with harsh repercussions instead.

Potential repercussions

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Those found with only a small amount of cannabis, generally, less than one ounce, may get off easy with a citation or a summons to appear in court. The penalties for possession of this much cannabis vary significantly in each state and country ranging from a small fine to imprisonment.

Travelers caught with bigger amounts of cannabis usually more than one ounce, as well as those suspected of having the intent to sell it are going to be facing much more severe penalties that include felony charges or jail time.

It is also important to recognize that being caught trying to bring cannabis onto a plane may come with consequences that go far beyond legal repercussions. Perpetrators may be restricted or banned from either the airline itself or air travel in general after being put on a no-fly list, which could make any future plans you have to travel a lot more difficult.

It's also worth highlighting the primary concern of the TSA which is whether or not you might be a security threat, so they might treat rule breaks relatively well in general throughout this uncomfortable process of this scenario. However, they are almost always required to call the police, so once you’re caught, the chances of you getting off without at minimum fines are slim to none.

In conclusion

If what you’ve learned so far is enough to make you nervous, then it might be time to reconsider your plans to bring cannabis on a flight. To avoid these consequences, leave your stash at home, or drop it in an amnesty box prior to going through the screening process, and if you must bring it with you, then make sure to thoroughly research the laws in your home country or state, your planned destination, and in any regions where you may experience a layover or connection.

In rare cases, it might be legal to travel by plane with cannabis for medicinal purposes, but even then it’s critical to follow the laws with precision which may mean keeping any required documentation easily accessible and up to date.

It is also not uncommon for those who qualify for exemptions due to medical reasons to be given a hard time, as they face extreme scrutiny by security and law enforcement officers who would otherwise arrest people for this simple act. So the general rule of thumb should always be if you don’t need it, leave it at home!

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