Written by Taylor Ulrich, J.D.
Los Angeles International Airport recently published the current position of the Los Angeles Airport Police Department by updating its public cannabis policy on its website stating that the department “will allow passengers to travel through LAX with up to 28.5 grams of cannabis and 8 grams of concentrated cannabis”. While this has actually been the law in California since recreational legalization in January 2018 and this publication brings more clarity, grey areas remain each step of the way.
Taking Off: First, you have to get through the TSA checkpoint. While their focus is on counter terrorism and overall passenger safety, they don't simply turn a blind eye when they come across cannabis. According to the TSA, cannabis is prohibited on persons, in carry-ons, and checked-bags. But when a TSA agent inadvertently discovers cannabis on a traveler or in luggage, agents are instructed to refer the violation to law enforcement. Luckily for travelers at LAX, it's now clear that local law enforcement will take no action if the passenger is compliant with state law. However, that doesn't mean that TSA will allow you to proceed past the checkpoint. They could still refer the situation to a federal agency, such as the DEA, who may have enforcement authority. Ultimately, law enforcement officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation or what steps – if any – will be taken. Whether or not the passenger is allowed to travel with marijuana is up to law enforcement's discretion.
Up in the Air: Furthermore, planes fly through federal airspace, as the LAX policy webpage acknowledges—meaning federal law prohibiting cannabis possession is applicable and arrest and other repercussions are possible.
Landing: The state and local laws of any airport passed through and upon arrival apply when you're in those places. Be sure to know what the state and local laws are in those places.
So, if you're following the law in California, you're not going to be arrested or have your cannabis confiscated by state or local law enforcement – whether you're at the airport or not. Furthermore, TSA officers at airport checkpoints do not have the authority to arrest any passenger, regardless of the situation. However, what federal agencies may do – or any other state other than California, is well – up in the air.