Air travel with marijuana
April 6, 2010 2:34 PM   Subscribe

A friend is planning to travel in the US by air in the next couple of months, and is planning on carrying one or two "joints" with her. What are the risks for my friend?
posted by ecollie to Law & Government (20 answers total)
Felony charges.
posted by decathecting at 2:35 PM on April 6, 2010

Yeah, your friend is asking for much unpleasantness here.

You can get pot pretty much anywhere now. Why not wait until they get wherever they're going and buy some then?

This is totally not worth the risk, no matter how small the actual odds of him/her getting caught.
posted by elder18 at 2:40 PM on April 6, 2010

Um, yeah. This is a bad idea. Don't do this. You can get pot in every city around...just buy some when your 'friend' gets there.
posted by youcancallmeal at 2:40 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

I do not think that 1 or 2 joints will lead to a felony charge. Maybe a misdemeanor. I have a "friend" who has traveled through many domestic airports with 1 or 2 joints on her. Usually in her box of Marlboros. Never had an issue. Sometimes will wrap in tin foil and place in carryon. Her thoughts were that she did not want them in her checked bags because of the possibility of drug sniffing dogs in the baggage handling area. Plausible or not, her plan was to deny they were hers if found in her cigs. Someone must have put them there last night at the party... type denial.

I have another friend who takes the time to wrap them up, seal them and put them in a peanut butter jar that is still full of peanut butter or in coffee grounds. I think he watches too much tv.

Then I have other friends who have zero tolerance for risk and hope to not get busted buying from a dude in new city.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:46 PM on April 6, 2010

I went from Montreal to Vancouver with a gew grams of weed hidden on me.

Nothing special happened.
posted by PowerCat at 2:56 PM on April 6, 2010

Pot flows like water in the States. Don't fly with it. Support our local small businesspeople and buy locally!

(Hypothetically. If you were, say, writing a novel about it. I would never, ever offer advice that might be construed as violating federal, state or local stupid, stupid laws.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:01 PM on April 6, 2010

PowerCat: 2 things: 1. that was inside Canada, where it's less of a bfd; 2. pot to BC = coals to Newcastle, no?
posted by zadcat at 3:01 PM on April 6, 2010

I agree that your friend should not fly with it and just get some when she gets here. It really isn't worth the risk.

That said, the risk is pretty small. I know plenty of people who frequently fly with personal stashes of marijuana (often in their carry-on) and none have had any trouble that I know of. But still, given the ease of acquiring pot in the states, it's not worth the risk.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:04 PM on April 6, 2010

I thought Mefi isn't a venue to discuss illegal activity and last i checked, thats illegal. Oh and having worked for the agency that will arrest your friend I can confirm that. Don't do it. Canine will alert and she will be alerted and not let into the country possibly ever again (if she is not a U.S. citizen).
posted by dmbfan93 at 3:21 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: According to an article from last year in the The Wall Street Journal, TSA screening procedures are being successfully challenged in court for violating the fourth amendment. On the other hand, cannabis is a Schedule I hallucinogen according to US drug laws, and traveling with it could -- at least theoretically -- land a guy (or gal) with federal trafficking charges. Almost everyone on the internet seems to have some crazy complicated strategy for doing it without getting caught. They may be super crafty, or it may just be that nobody cares if you have a small amount of cannabis on your person, according to a DEA statement:

"Federal marijuana investigations and prosecutions usually involve hundreds of pounds of marijuana. Few defendants are incarcerated in federal prison for simple possession of marijuana."
posted by brina at 3:22 PM on April 6, 2010

sorry I meant "arrested". She will be arrested (not alerted). though that too.
posted by dmbfan93 at 3:22 PM on April 6, 2010

I know multiple people who have done so on multiple occasions, and nothing has ever happened. I think it's always been in carryon, not checked baggage. That said, it's a risk, but so is buying in a new city.

You could look up the laws in the states you are flying to and from - in some states, possession of under an ounce is a misdemeanor that carries a moderate fine, with no jail time. Your friend might be willing to take that risk. On the other hand, the relevant jurisdiction might consider it a felony, with jail time or a major fine attached - would your friend be willing to take that risk? (And does federal law apply in airports, or the state law of the state you're in? I'm not sure).
posted by insectosaurus at 3:24 PM on April 6, 2010

@dmbfan93: I have no experience with this question and no advice to give, but I think you're misconstruing it. Ed Collie's friend is not planning to fly *into* the US (from abroad), but is planning to fly "in the US," which I think means a domestic flight.

@ecollie: could you clarify?
posted by brianogilvie at 3:56 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Of course, NORML has a state-by-state map breaking it all down.
posted by brina at 4:01 PM on April 6, 2010

First, the good news: TSA's administrative search authority is limited to searching only for "weapons, incindiaries, and explosives" (WEI). If they intentionally look for anything else, they've exceeded the limited purpose for which they were granted authority, and the search in unconstitutional.

Now, the bad news: if, in the course of what could reasonably be interpreted as a search for WEI, the TSA unintentionally find anything that they reasonably believe to be illegal, they are trained to immediately report their discovery to the police. And there's almost always a real police officer at/near the checkpoint.

Finally, the worse news: an unfortunate number of TSA employees either don't understand or don't care that their search authority is limited to WEI. The fact that the TSA leadership issues press releases trumpeting that their body-scanners found hidden drugs certainly doesn't help convey that message to the rank-and-file.

Most people don't get their carry-on bags opened by the TSA, let alone get subjected to a thorough inspection of the contents. But thorough bag inspections do happen to some people. All it takes is for the Explosive Trace Detector (the little cotton-swab thing they sometimes swipe your bag with) to false-positive because of a glycerin-based lotion on your hands or a nitrogen-based fertilizer on your shoes. Or maybe something in your bag just "looks suspicious" on the X-ray screen. If that happens, the TSA may start looking through the unlikeliest parts of your carry-on bag, and might gleefully call the cops over to look at anything that even looks like it might be illegal.

Bottom line: risk of arrest is probably higher than you'd intuitively assume from your everyday, non-airport experience. The chances of having your carry-on bags seriously searched are low, but you can't predict when a false-positive ETD or X-ray will trigger a search, you can't back out if you are selected for search, and the customary protections against "unreasonable search and seizure" are increasingly ignored in the airport security realm. I wouldn't chance it.

[I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. Don't sue me when the American 'justice' system inevitably convicts you on charges of "not rich enough to afford a good lawyer."]
posted by Dimpy at 4:07 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

The risk is a long, unpleasant, and potentially expensive diversion from the intended journey, in the company of police officers.
posted by gyusan at 4:11 PM on April 6, 2010

On the line between Good Idea and Bad Idea this one is decidedly over on the Bad Idea side. The upside is weed when you get to where you are going. The downside is potentially life changing. Easy risk vs. reward calculation. Do not do it.
posted by fenriq at 4:53 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

If she's caught & arrested, she may find herself flagged on entry to other countries as well. Someone I know was arrested but not convicted & had problems getting into Canada because of it. That was several years ago & Canada's stance may have changed, but I don't know the rules for all countries we share information with.
posted by scalefree at 4:55 PM on April 6, 2010

I thought Mefi isn't a venue to discuss illegal activity and last i checked, thats illegal.

At risk of derail I'll say my understanding is the rule is more about discussing circumvention techniques than simply all aspects of illegal behavior. We're not telling anybody how to break the law here.
posted by scalefree at 4:58 PM on April 6, 2010

This is a dumb idea.
posted by number9dream at 9:54 PM on April 6, 2010

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