Amtrak security measures
March 17, 2009 9:25 PM   Subscribe

How strict are Amtrak security regulations with regard to marijuana?

About a year ago, Amtrak announced that they would be implementing new security restrictions which would include bomb-sniffing dogs and guards with automatic machine guns. My father, who resides in Oregon, is planning to take a trip up to Washington state and he'd like to bring his medical marijuana in his carry on luggage. He does have paperwork stating he is approved for medical marijuana usage in Oregon, but is still concerned about getting in trouble with federal agents.

I know you are not a lawyer and this doesn't constitute legal advice, but does anyone know if these random bag searches have been implemented or if any k9 units they use are also checking for drugs? Even anecdotal answers regarding whether or not you've experienced these new security measures on recent Amtrak trips are welcome.

Thanks for your help!
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total)
I've only taken Amtrak on the northeast corridor (NY to DC) but I have never experienced any security whatsoever on Amtrak. Within the waiting areas there'll be cops and maybe maybe the occasional K-9 dog - but I doubt they're drug sniffing.
posted by jourman2 at 9:31 PM on March 17, 2009

Maybe he should call Amtrak (anonymously) and ask about their policies regarding such a situation? Echoing jourman, my experience with Amtrak in the Northeast is that security is very light and/or non-existent - no medal detectors, no personal searches - and any dogs will be sniffing for bombs, not da bomb chronic.
posted by gnutron at 9:35 PM on March 17, 2009

Union Station in DC and Penn Station in NY sometimes have police or Homeland Security-types with dogs walking around. Whether they are trained to sniff for drugs, I'm not sure. In any case, in my Northeast Corridor experience, there is never any sort of screening and the cops/dogs just sit around, well away from the waiting area, looking bored.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:36 PM on March 17, 2009


Amtrak is deemed Federal property and therefore Federal law holds sway.
posted by jet_silver at 9:42 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

The only security I have ever encountered, is immigration boarding in the middle of the night to ask people where they are from. Thats from Portland to Chicago, though. I have traveled Portland to Tacoma, and on to Seattle a few times. No problem, but I have never carried the mary jane.

I would happily suggest that your father pay the extra 11 or so dollars, and get Business Class. Besides the extra leg room and the meal voucher, you stay away from the riff-raff that you can encounter in Coach seating.
posted by captainsohler at 9:44 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I traveled to LA, New Orleans and Chicago on Amtrak last October, and the only security was a half-hearted immigration patrol near the border in Texas. No drug checks, luggage checks, or anything. I was in "first class" (sleeper cars) most of the time, but I would think security procedures are the same for all passengers (except perhaps for the immigration check, where the officers actually boarded the train and talked to passengers). Everybody stands on the same line to board the train and there were no metal detectors, X-ray machines, dogs or anything, and once you're past the Amtrak gate agent, you walk straight onto the train. I don't know how checked luggage is handled - most people carry their stuff on with them, and carry-on luggage allowances are generous. No need to try your luck with the gods of lost luggage.
posted by Quietgal at 10:05 PM on March 17, 2009

I've traveled Amtrak on the west coast and you wouldn't believe how relaxed it is. No hassles, no security personnel, no metal detectors, no luggage screening, no X-ray machines -- just nice, cheerful attendants. I never saw anyone with a gun or even a badge. You can check baggage, but you probably also want a carry-on bag or backpack. At stops you can get off and walk around the station for a few minutes to stretch your legs and just get back on without even showing your ticket. It is totally relaxing and non-stressful. It reminds me of air travel before the days of annoying security checks, when you could walk in the front door of the terminal and get directly on a plane with no stops. If Amtrak weren't so slow, it would be the only way I would travel in the U.S. It's a very pleasant experience. It is so refreshing to be treated as an adult instead of a potential criminal.

You don't have to hang out in your assigned coach seat. You can go the lounge car which is very spacious with comfortable seating and huge windows. The official rules are no alcohol except in private sleepers or the bar car, but they didn't seem to hassle anyone with their own supply in the lounge car if you are very discrete.
posted by JackFlash at 10:09 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

MeMail me.
posted by jtron at 10:13 PM on March 17, 2009

I traveled all across the US by Amtrak this past fall. They had drug sniffing dogs in the LA station as well as on the train before it departed.

Also I can't remember where we were but during a smoking stop the conductor made an announcement on the train that anyone caught smoking marijuana would be thrown off the train at that stop with their belongings. I assume this is because someone smelled it outside.

I had a very small amount on me for most of the midwest and never had any issues. The drug dog walked right past me in LA. I had it in my back pocket and was sitting on it.
posted by laptolain at 10:50 PM on March 17, 2009

Oh also this was in coach. And I agree with what jackflash said about being discrete. I got loaded many a time with random people in the coach car and we just kept it to ourselves. When we got too loud we would move to the lounge car.
posted by laptolain at 10:54 PM on March 17, 2009

You won't pass through it on this trip, of course, but just for the sake of having all the data you can get: the DEA gets on board and goes through the length of the train with drug dogs when it passes through El Paso, Texas.
posted by ewingpatriarch at 11:57 PM on March 17, 2009

I just took an Amtrak train from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Chicago, and there was no security screening whatsoever performed on my bag. They made sure you had a ticket, and that was pretty much it.
posted by you zombitch at 12:07 AM on March 18, 2009

even if security is lax you're not exactly smart if you're considering taking it with you while traveling on federal equipment across state lines. you're being a glutton for punishment there.
posted by krautland at 2:47 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can package it to make it almost smell free...

One time while driving through New Mexico on a cross-country road trip, we were suddenly stopped by boarder patrol and they had a dog sniff the entire car. There was an ounce of weed in there but the dog didn't register it: it's all in the packaging.
posted by sickinthehead at 4:34 AM on March 18, 2009

In Philadelphia, you have the option of being smelled by the dog if you go down the stairs, or not smelled by the dog if you go down the elevator. It's apparently your choice.
posted by dmd at 5:17 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Googling amtrak + "drug sniffing dogs" brings up quite a few horror stories. Your father should not attempt this. He should ask his doctor for a prescription for synthetic THC pills for this trip.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:45 AM on March 18, 2009

NE Corridor traveller from time to time, and I have never seen dogs in the actual trains. Of course at Penn Station there are always cops and dogs.

I really can't imagine business types taking kindly to being strip searched before getting on a train--not to mention the time between station stops is generally quite low. In general they are competing with the airlines, so it's not in their best interest to have the exact same security measures...
posted by shownomercy at 7:02 AM on March 18, 2009

Btw damn dirty ape, what horror stories are you talking about? I find one five day bust story from 1988, some stuff from 2001 about sharing info with the DEA, and a lot of news pieces talking about what OP mentioned as far as new security measures.
posted by shownomercy at 7:06 AM on March 18, 2009

Several people were busted in Albuquerque when I was traveling from LA to KC...the law enforcement (not sure who, i was a fifth of whiskey in) took their drug dogs the length of the train and arrested 4 or 5 people and confiscated what looked to be a duffel bag full of weed.

I wouldn't risk it. Call the doctor and see if you can get some Marinol for the trip.
posted by schyler523 at 7:19 AM on March 18, 2009

Or cook some goo balls or brownies for the trip.
posted by schyler523 at 7:19 AM on March 18, 2009

The drug dogs are there because they're looking for the person with the duffel bag full of weed, not for the person with a small personal-use amount.

That said, if the drug dog sniffs out your dad and the drug human is a real stickler, he could be in some trouble. So it's up to him whether or not he wants to take the risk.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:04 AM on March 18, 2009

I've been on an Amtrak journey before (New Orleans to NYC) during which a couple of guys were pulled off the train and arrested, but in this case it appeared to be for smoking marijuana on board. Not the brightest idea. As for simply carrying it on, I've ridden Amtrak many, many times on cross-country routes (though never too close to US/Canada or US/Mexico borders) and have never seen drug dogs or random searches. Sounds like others have. In my opinion, it's not worth the risk (or having to feel nervous about it the whole trip).
posted by allisonrae at 11:28 AM on March 18, 2009

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