What Happens if TSA Finds Cannabis in Checked Luggage?

     Marijuana is more socially acceptable throughout the country. Some states such as Michigan have even legalized the practice of growing, selling and using cannabis on a medical and/or recreational basis.

For those who are interested in partaking in marijuana in one way or another, this is really good news. At the same time, differing laws can create a lot of confusion, especially when someone is traveling across state lines.

One of the most common questions that’s asked in terms of traveling with cannabis is whether you are allowed to carry it in your checked luggage. Below, we’ll address what happens if TSA finds cannabis in your checked luggage.

Does TSA Check for Cannabis in Luggage?

According to the TSA, security officers won’t be actively searching for marijuana or any other illegal drugs. Instead, they are focused on finding anything in luggage that could be a threat to passengers and aviation as a whole.

It’s obviously possible, though, that TSA security officers may end up finding cannabis products in your checked luggage. So, what happens in this instance?

The TSA says that if security agents find cannabis during a security check, they are required to report it to local law enforcement officials — depending on what state the airport is located in.

If the airport is located in a state where marijuana is legal, for example, then the TSA security agent may just confiscate the cannabis in your luggage, unless you are trying to transport a very large amount of it.

On the other hand, if the airport is located in a state where marijuana is still completely illegal, then you will likely be turned over to law enforcement officers for a possible fine and/or other criminal action.

How Can TSA Officers Find Cannabis in Luggage?

A question you might have is how would a TSA security officer find cannabis in your luggage if they aren’t actively searching for it? There are a few ways that they might come across it, actually. Here are some of the main ways it could happen

Random Searches

TSA security officers will perform random searches of about 10% of all checked bags, by policy. When they do this, they will open a passenger’s luggage and conduct a physical inspection of the contents inside. If you are one of the unlucky ones to have your luggage randomly inspected, TSA officers will find your cannabis if you have any inside.

Airport Scanners

While cannabis does appear on airport scanners, it doesn’t appear as a clear picture of what it is. When luggage goes through an airport scanner, the contents inside either appear blue/black, green or orange.

Blue/black represents any hard plastic. Green represents any non-organic material. And orange represents organic material. 

Since cannabis is organic material, it will appear orange in an airport scanner. But, if TSA security officers aren’t specifically looking for cannabis, why would they open a person’s checked luggage if they see an orange item?

The answer is because explosivesbecause that explosives would also appear orange through an airport scanner, since they are composed partially of some organic materials. 

In other words, if a TSA security agent sees orange pop up in your luggage, they may be opening it to search for explosives, only to find that what’s inside is cannabis.

What About Medical Marijuana?

Another common question is whether it’s legal to carry cannabis in your checked luggage if you have a medical marijuana card. The answer, unfortunately, is that this is irrelevant from the TSA’s perspective.

The reason is because cannabis in all forms — whether for medical or recreational use — is still considered completely illegal. And since the TSA is a federal agency, it operates by federal law.

Therefore, showing your medical marijuana card to a TSA security agent who finds your medical marijuana won’t change what they do after they find cannabis in your checked luggage. They are still required by federal law to report you to local law enforcement officials.

As mentioned above, though, the one exception to this is if the airport is located in a state where medical marijuana is legal. If it is, then your cannabis may just be confiscated instead of being turned over to law enforcement.

What if I’m Traveling to and from States Where It’s Legal?

The same reasoning for medical marijuana applies in the case of flying from one state where cannabis is legal to another state where it’s also legal. Even if the two states have the exact same laws, flying with cannabis in your checked luggage is not legal from the TSA’s perspective — because all marijuana is considered illegal from a federal standpoint.

Are There Any Exceptions at All?

With all of the above in mind, it is important to note that you can fly with certain cannabis products in your checked luggage. What determines whether it’s legal or not is what the cannabis product is made of.

TSA states that some cannabis-infused products are completely legal to fly with. In order for the cannabis product to meet the legal criteria, according to the TSA, it must not contain more than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis. Or, it must be approved for use by the FDA.

This means that some cannabis-infused products are completely legal to put in your checked luggage. Most of these products are Cannabidiol that are derived from hemp and not marijuana — though there are some from the latter source.

If you want to fly with this type of product, it is very important that you store the product in its original packaging, and that it clearly states the level of THC that it contains. These are similar instructions you would want to follow if you were flying with prescription medications — which should be kept in their original packaging that shows you are the one who they were prescribed to. 

You don’t want TSA security officers to have to make a determination as to whether your cannabis-infused product meets the criteria for exception. In almost every case, they will err on the side of caution and either confiscate your cannabis and/or turn you over to local law enforcement authorities.