Can You Fly With Weed? TSA Rules Explained

Sophia Delphi May 09, 2022 - 7 min read
Fact Checked
Image of Weed and a plane

For the last 20 years, you’ve almost been able to sense the waves of relief washing across the country.

38 states have now legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana, allowing millions of weed users to breathe a lot easier. [1]

Those in “illegal” states still have to be careful, of course. But for everyone else, being able to spark up a bowl or joint without fear of legal consequences is a very big deal.

It’s also nice to know that a simple traffic stop won’t land you in serious trouble for possession. And if you live in a state where weed is legal, you can drive anywhere in the state — or even to neighboring legal states — without any concern.

Flying, however, is another matter.

Why Bringing Weed on a Plane Is Illegal

You’d think that flying with weed from New York City to Albany, New York wouldn’t be a big deal; marijuana use is legal in the state.

And if you’re flying from New York to Boston or Los Angeles, who would care? Massachusetts and California are fully-legal states, so you’re not breaking any laws by smoking in any of those places.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The federal government is involved, too.

You probably know that U.S. law still lists marijuana as a schedule 1 drug. Under federal law, the possession, sale, and use of weed is illegal. Period. [2]

In 2009 the Justice Department stopped enforcing pot laws (except in cases of trafficking) in states that had legalized cannabis. The Trump administration ostensibly rescinded that order in 2018 but didn’t go to war with users or dispensary owners. And the Biden Justice Department has restated the policy of leaving weed enforcement to local and state authorities. [3]

So far, so good — at least, if you live in a legal state or are driving to a nearby legal state. But once you bring airports and planes into the picture, things get more complicated.

The airspace above the United States is considered federal “property.” Airports operate under FAA regulations, so they’re nominally required to adhere to U.S. law. The TSA agents who screen airport passengers are federal employees, expected to enforce federal laws.

That means it’s illegal to be on an airborne plane with weed. Carrying weed in airports is against federal law even if the airport is in a legal state. And TSA screeners should theoretically intervene if they find that you’re carrying flowers onto the plane or in your luggage.

In short, you can’t legally bring weed on a plane, because the U.S. government considers it an illegal substance.

That’s the law. The reality isn’t quite as draconian.

What Happens if You’re Carrying Weed in an Airport

No one is going to know if you’re just walking around a terminal carrying a legal amount of weed in a legal state. It may be technically illegal, but no one’s going to stop and frisk you.

If you’re carrying it in plain sight (or you’re smoking it), that might be a problem. It would also be stupid.

To be blunt, the authorities don’t care about possession in legal states. A more difficult issue can arise, though, when it’s time to check-in for your flight.

As we’ve mentioned, TSA agents are federal employees. After they check your ticket and ID, they’re the ones that conduct passenger screenings. But they’re not looking for weed. They’re looking for weapons and other safety threats. [4]

Even so, that doesn’t mean they won’t inadvertently find your stash when going through your carry-on bag or patting you down. And if they do find it, what happens next?

They won’t seize your pot or arrest you; that’s not their job. The TSA’s policy is to call local authorities to handle the situation. It’s then up to the airport, local, or state police to decide how to handle your heinous, anti-social act of carrying weed.

Good news: You’ll be fine in most legal states.

Many local officials simply tell the TSA agent “thanks for letting us know” and tell the passenger “have a nice flight.” LAX (Los Angeles), O’Hare (Chicago), and New York airports have explicit airport rules preventing local officials from making arrests for possession, and preventing them from seizing your weed (if it’s a legal amount).

Many other airports in legal states handle things the same way, but there are exceptions.

For example, Colorado is a legal state, but it’s illegal to carry weed out of the state. That’s why Denver International Airport forbids people from possessing it on airport property.

If TSA agents in Denver find someone’s stash and call local police, the passenger won’t be arrested. They’ll be given the choice of just going home or forfeiting the stash. The same thing will happen if you’re caught with weed in Portland’s airport. Denver and many other airports now have “amnesty boxes” where passengers can simply deposit (and lose) their weed before flying.

So procedures vary in legal states; at worst, you’ll have your bud confiscated. In “non-legal” states, though, local officials may seize the flower, issue a ticket, or even make an arrest.

Hiding Weed in Your Luggage

TSA is also responsible for screening checked baggage, so their agents follow the same procedures used at check-in. If they find weed in your bags, they call local authorities to handle the issue.

The pot will usually be confiscated by police, even in legal states. Whether there are any other legal consequences depends on local policies, but it’s extremely unlikely that anyone wearing blue will be “waiting for you” at baggage claim when you arrive.

TSA doesn’t check every bag, so they may not even look in your luggage. There’s still a decent risk, though, that your weed won’t arrive at your destination. It’s a better idea to carry it on the plane with you.

How Can you Safely Carry Weed on a Plane?

We don’t recommend violating federal law, of course.

But many travelers have found that tucking a few joints into a pack of cigarettes will never be noticed. They’ve also had luck packing their flower at the bottom of a Tylenol or ibuprofen bottle, covering the weed with cotton balls, and then filling the rest of the bottle with the real pills. Those who have TSA Precheck status often store the weed in a shoe.

Here’s the best advice. TSA screeners don’t want your weed to be discovered any more than you do. Make sure it’s tucked away somewhere unobtrusive so it won’t accidentally be discovered — don’t act like you have anything to hide — and you should be good to go.

Can You Bring Weed on a Plane: FAQ

Q: Won’t airport dogs sniff out my weed?
A: Not unless you’re a drug trafficker, the DEA is investigating you, and they bring in drug-sniffing dogs. TSA’s dogs are only used to detect bombs, explosives, and similar contraband. They aren’t looking for weed.

Q: What about vape juice, edibles, and concentrates?
A: The same TSA procedures apply, but their agents are more likely to find vape juice and tinctures since they’re screening for potentially explosive liquids. If they find the juice, there’s a very high chance you’ll end up losing it. Edibles, wax, and other solids are less likely to be discovered if they’re well-hidden.

Q: What happens if I’m flying internationally?
A: Once again, the same TSA procedures apply in American airports. Every country has its laws and policies, though, so if you’re going to try flying overseas with weed, check your destination’s policies carefully to make sure your vacation doesn’t start at a police station or in jail.