As cannabis becomes legal in more places and in more ways, old rules are changing to let in new marijuana-friendly rules. Whereas once the sky was completely off limits to the smokable drug, things are starting to change. In fact, believe it or not, some countries now let passengers fly with cannabis.
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Different ways to be legal
Not only does every country have its own laws regarding the use, possession, sale, cultivation, and import/export of cannabis, but often these categories too can be broken down further into medical legalizations, recreational legalizations, and even religious legalizations, each with its own set of laws concerning use, possession, sale, cultivation, and import/export.
Right now, in terms of full recreational legalizations, there are only a few places that apply. Uruguay; Canada; the US states that have independently legalized; Mexico, although until legislation comes out in December, it’s technically only a judicial legalization, with no regulated system for sale of products; and Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Then there’re places like Washington DC, and Georgia (the country, not the state), which have wonkier recreational legalizations. In DC, a person can possess and use, but can’t buy or sell, although cultivation is legal. In Georgia, it’s the same, but without the cultivation part, making for a strange system where using a product is actually legal, but there is no legal way to obtain it.
When it comes to medical legalizations, these have become ubiquitous in the world. From South American countries like Argentina and Uruguay; to the majority of European countries; to Australia & New Zealand; to African countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho, though these countries don’t always guarantee the use of cannabis for their own people, and are more geared toward the business end, and exportation to other markets. Nearly every US state has medical legalization; even some Asian countries like Thailand; and Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon, which just became the first of the region (apart from Israel) to allow this.
And then there are the more elusive religious legalizations, which have been coming into play more recently. The most well-known religion to use cannabis sacramentally is Rastafarianism, although others do exist. Due to the Rastafarian religion, countries like Jamaica and Barbados have specific laws that allow the use of cannabis for religious purposes. And though there isn’t an actual written law attached to it, Nepal allows cannabis to be smoked without harassment by law enforcement, for one day a year to celebrate the Mahashivrati festival.
Where can you fly with cannabis
To be clear, there are no legalized locations – recreational, medical, or religious – that have laws allowing the transport of cannabis across country borders. What this means is, whatever the legalization policy, and whatever might be allowed within a country’s borders, this has no bearing on anything, anywhere else. No country will allow you to legally cross its border with cannabis. To make it even more clear, even if a person is attempting to fly with cannabis from one recreational legalized location to another – let’s say Toronto to California, this too is not possible.
However, this doesn’t mean that making it into the sky legally with marijuana is impossible, and there are a couple countries that now let you do it. The first is Canada. As a completely legalized country, recreational marijuana is legal all throughout. As of recently, it also became legal to fly from one province to another in Canada with up to 30 grams in either a carry-on or checked bag. This does not permit passengers to light-up on the plane, but it does let them bring their stash from place to place.
Then there’s South Africa. Though South Africa doesn’t technically make it to the legalized list, it’s one of those countries that actually kind of is. Since September, 2018, due to a constitutional court ruling, South Africa actually does allow adults to have and use cannabis at home (with no specific limit set), and for personal cultivation in the home. According to a police directive following the ruling, it is also completely legal for adult South Africans to fly with cannabis in small amounts, on plane flights within the country. As per the directive, it must be an amount that makes sense for personal consumption, and it should be well hidden. And of course, it can’t actually be used in a public place like an airport.
As mentioned previously, this means nothing for international travel, and is confined entirely to the borders of South Africa and Canada.
Why not the US?
The US is still a prickly place when it comes to federal cannabis law. While the majority of states have medical legalizations, and about 1/3 now allow recreational usage as of the last election, federal law still considers cannabis to be a schedule I drug. This makes it a controlled substance, that technically has no medical purpose. As such, even if a person is travelling between California and Colorado with no stops in between, it’s still illegal to fly with cannabis since air travel goes by federal mandates.
Just in case you were thinking, ‘hey, I’ll just take my weed on the train instead’, this too is not legally possible. Amtrak, the main train company in the US, does not allow cannabis in any form or for any purpose. Neither does Greyhound, the biggest busing company in the US. Passengers on these transportation services will be unlikely to have bags checked, but being found with marijuana on them can certainly result in some trouble. There are other smaller train and bus lines, but I have yet to hear of any that allow cannabis.
As an interesting point, though it’s not legal to fly with cannabis in the US, airports like LAX in Los Angeles, and O’Hare in Chicago do allow outbound passengers to enter the airports with cannabis. The two mentioned airports allow up to one ounce. This doesn’t mean that passengers can actually bring the cannabis onto a plane, and are required to throw it away, or deposit into an amnesty box if available, if they want to board.
If you’re wondering about whether it helps to have a medical marijuana card at the airport with you, it should be remembered that while a traveler might be treated with a little more leniency, that it won’t really get them off the hook. If this happens in a state with no medical program, the flyer is completely out of luck. If it happens locally in a state with a program, local police can evaluate the situation.
When it comes to CBD, TSA specifically states on its website, “Marijuana and certain cannabis infused products, including some Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, remain illegal under federal law except for products that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis or that are approved by FDA. (See the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115-334.) TSA officers are required to report any suspected violations of law to local, state or federal authorities.”
What about CBD in general?
CBD, as the darling grandchild of marijuana, gets away with a lot more all over the world. While many countries still have restrictions, the EU, for example, allows it on flights so long as the THC content is within the legal limit of .2%. The stipulation here is that the product must also meet the regulatory laws of the specific country of entry. If a product is caught at customs that does not meet the regulatory requirements of the country, it will likely be confiscated and the offender may face local law enforcement. Whether this will change or not with the ruling of France vs the EU remains to be seen. Though the case is about trade restrictions with a focus on CBD, it relates to the idea of whether an individual EU country can break with EU mandate. It’s quite possible that if France loses, it will soon be legal to fly anywhere in the EU with CBD.
CBD represents a gray area since so many different locations have their own specifications. Whether it’s legal at all, how much THC is in it, what part of the plant was used, and what plant it was sourced from… If the country of departure and the country of entry are both okay with the product in question, the traveler will likely be just fine. But this isn’t a rule.
A few years ago, no one in South Africa or Canada was thinking they could show up at an airport and expect to board a flight with a bag of weed in their pocket. It might not be a globally widespread practice just yet, but as laws loosen up concerning the legality of cannabis, more and more locations will likely open their airspace to marijuana-carrying passengers, and it will become more and more common to fly with cannabis.
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