Ominous warnings of arrest on a federal offense are greeting passengers who dare fly through Los Angeles with cannabis—but these are just the latest and most aggressive in a long line of empty threats.
Adult-use cannabis is legal in California and adult-use cannabis is legal in New York. But because marijuana is still banned under federal law—and since federal law governs airspace in the United States—it’s still not legal to fly from Los Angeles to New York City (or anywhere else) with cannabis, in any amount.
That hasn’t stopped untold millions of people from flying with cannabis anyway. One reason why is there just isn’t much risk. Most Transportation Security Administration agents encountered at airport security checkpoints are not law enforcement. And the law enforcement officers TSA agents summon are almost always local police or sheriff’s deputies, who enforce state law, which in California and New York (and many places in between) says small amounts of cannabis are legal.
For these reasons, there are precious few examples of small amounts of cannabis causing airline passengers (or anyone else) much trouble—as much as it might annoy police who still remember the days of plentiful, easy busts before legalization. Which is why authorities at Los Angeles International Airport are putting a new, aggressive spin on an old, crude, but effective tactic: threatening passengers carrying cannabis, this time with arrest and federal charges, in order to scare them into self-policing. But according to defense attorneys, passengers should not be fooled—this ominous warning is an empty threat.
Earlier this year, new signs appeared near security checkpoints at LAX. “ATTENTION,” the signs blare in large, uppercase letters, a large, seven-fingered marijuana fan leaf behind the red diagonal slash in a prohibition sign. “TRAVELING WITH NARCOTICS=ARREST.”
Placed there by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the authority in charge of both LAX and Van Nuys Airport, the signs inform any uncertain passengers that the definition of “narcotics” includes “concentrated cannabis” as well as “cannabis edibles” and “vapes” (two more discreet options often preferred by travelers for their compact portability and lack of tell-tale smell).
Published: October 26, 2021
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News