Cannabis users had a brief but intense moment of euphoria this week after the Transportation Security Administration seemed to give a green light to air travelers to pack medical marijuana in checked or carry-on luggage.
But the TSA’s apparent new acceptance of THC – which appeared on its website – went up in smoke almost as fast as news of the supposed change zipped through social media. In 24 hours or so, the TSA’s website went from green to red.
The agency said passengers are still not allowed to have marijuana in their luggage and blamed the website’s mix-up on a computer glitch.
Marijuana is now legal for medical or recreational use in 26 states and the District of Columbia, according to Governing magazine. But the drug remains illegal under federal law, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for one, made clear he wants to keep it that way.
So how do people fly (on an airplane) with marijuana that had been legally purchased in some states? Here to help is Joel Milton. Milton, a techie who grew up in suburban New York and then moved west for the Green Rush, is chief executive of Baker, a Denver-based software company that helps more than 300 marijuana dispensaries in 13 states market their wares. The following Q&A with Milton has been lightly edited:
Q: What do you make of the TSA website’s giving a temporary thumbs-up to medical marijuana?
A: I loved it. I mean, first of all, there’s no way it was just a random, data error. The reality is, the TSA was probably trying to do the right thing – or someone there was, and sort of acknowledging that, “Hey, listen, if you’re a cancer or a glaucoma patient who has medical marijuana, (this is how to pack it).”
Q: What makes you think the TSA meant to change its policy?
A: You know, people tweet at TSA all the time, right? And I’m sure, based on some requests from some very ill people who really rely heavily on cannabis to make it through their day – I’m sure they feel for those people and they probably said “Listen, you have a medical pink card, and you really need it. We’re not going to bust you.”
Now, unfortunately, when you put that on a federal website, and you have someone like Jeff Sessions as the attorney general … that’s why it was removed pretty quickly. I’m not surprised it got taken down.
Q: Given the business you’re in, do you partake?
A: I do. Yeah. Certainly, in our company it’s an interesting topic of conversation. We’re big believers in the plants. We think that everyone has the right to enjoy cannabis and use it however they see fit – as long as it doesn’t interfere with their workday.
Q: Does your business also advise cannabis users on how to travel?
A: Officially, all the advising we do is how to market your business… . That said, as a team of 27 cannabis enthusiasts who lived in four different states and who all travel very regularly, we know a fair bit about transporting cannabis across the country.
And what I’ll say is this: TSA says very clearly on their website that security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs. That’s not their job, right? They’re looking for safety. They’re not DEA, they’re TSA… . That said, obviously cannabis is still federally illegal, so you have to be careful. And you certainly don’t want to flaunt it or rub it in their face …
Q: You don’t take a wrapped-up brick of weed on board, I take it?
A: Exactly. Here are some quick things you can do:
Don’t bring a liquid cannabis drink, like an elixir. We all know how good TSA is at finding water bottles. So the last thing you want to do is bring a liquid cannabis over 3.5 ounces. That’s an immediate red flag to the machines.
Don’t try to hide it. The TSA, those machines – they detect anomalies. And so if you were to try to shove it in a jar of peanut butter, it would look on the machine like something was hidden in the peanut butter, and they would pull it out and try see what it was, to make sure it wasn’t a bomb that was hidden in there. Or if you try to shove a vape pen in your battery compartment in your laptop, that’s going to raise a red flag, because it’s designed to find things that are hidden. That said, hide it in plain sight.
If you’re traveling with flowers, take them in an odor-sealed package. And just put it in your backpack along with other food items.
If you are uncomfortable with the thought of traveling with it, you can always eat an edible before you fly – although, I would say only if you’re very experienced. We don’t want anyone to have a Maureen Dowd experience where you’re trapped in a metal tube at 35,000 feet.
Q: Have security officials ever found your stash?
A: I have had my backpack searched several times, usually because I forget to take out a water bottle. On those times, I often have something hidden in plain sight that’s completely overlooked.
Q: Do you think the TSA will begin stopping people who have marijuana the same way they stop people with guns?
A: I don’t see it going backwards. Again, TSA lines are long enough. It’s one thing for a passenger to take his gun on a plane, and it’s another to take a little bit of cannabis.
Q: By the way, are you a member of the Cannabis Mile High Club?
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.