Big news from the TSA: medical marijuana now allowed on flights.
Or is it?
In reality, no it isn’t.
The Transportation Security Administration – the part of the Department for Homeland Security which governs travel in the US – has recently changed its stance on whether a certain type of cannabinoid-containing product can be carried on flights.
This doesn’t mean that carrying your medical marijuana on a plane is suddenly okay…
Let’s get into this in a bit more detail:
Is all medical marijuana now allowed on flights?
The answer there is a firm “NO”. At least, at the present time. Currently, the only type of medical marijuana-type product which is allowed on flights is hemp-derived CBD oil – and only as long as certain special instructions are followed.
There was a brief interlude when the TSA changed their website to say that medical marijuana was fine to carry on flights.They then quickly clarified that this had been a mistake, saying:
“Whether or not marijuana is considered legal under local laws is not relevant to TSA screening because TSA is governed by federal law, federal law provides no basis to treat medical marijuana any differently than non-medical marijuana.”
This means it doesn’t matter whether CBD oil is legal in Arizona, for instance. As far as the TSA is concerned, until federal law specifically allows or defines what constitutes medical marijuana, only certain exceptions – such as this new one for hemp-derived CBD oil – will be permissible.
Why did the TSA change their stance?
The TSA’s change in stance was apparently prompted by:
- The 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp and its derivatives at the federal level.
- The FDA approval of Epidiolex, a CBD oil (cannabidiol is one of the chemical compounds found in cannabis and hemp) used for the treatment of two medication-resistant forms of epilepsy.
The former prompted the TSA to add a section of text to their website which states:
“Products/medications that contain hemp-derived CBD or are approved by the FDA are legal as long as it is produced within the regulations defined by the law under the Agriculture Improvement Act 2018.”
The latter prompted a TSA spokesperson to comment:
“TSA was made aware of an FDA-approved drug that contains CBD oil for children who experience seizures from pediatric epilepsy. To avoid confusion as to whether families can travel with this drug, TSA immediately updated TSA.gov once we became aware of the issue.”
Epidiolex was first approved around one year previously, so it must have been a while before some passengers with children started asking questions about the legality of travelling with their kids’ medication.
How will the TSA enforce their ruling?
While the TSA’s change in stance will be a great relief to parents of children with Dravet Syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (the two medication-resistant forms of epilepsy which the FDA approved Epidiolex for) who wish to safely travel with their medication, it’s not immediately clear how the TSA will enforce their ruling…
The TSA’s security checks are designed to protect the safety of travellers. This means checking for things like weapons more than it means checking for illegal substances. Referencing their website, the TSA says that its main work is:
“Focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers.”
It’s only if anything illegal turns up as part of standard security checks that the TSA then calls in law enforcement. But how will they know if any CBD oil they find as part of a check is hemp-derived and contains no more than the 0.3% of THC which the FDA has approved? Perhaps officers will need to be equipped with some sort of testing equipment? We will have to watch this space for developments.
Can you bring edibles on a plane? How about medical marijuana?
This potential deficiency in the ability to test the enforcement of this ruling may naturally lead to other questions:
Can you bring edibles on a plane? Can you carry medical marijuana on a flight if you have a license from your home state?
Again – and it’s worth reiterating this point – the TSA appears to have changed its stance purely to make things clearer for parents of children travelling with Epidiolex and any similar medication.
No, you cannot legally bring edibles or your medical marijuana on a plane – even if they’re in your hold luggage.
Many people will tell you that flying with edibles in checked luggage is possible. Perhaps it is…
But it’s not legal – and if your baggage is checked and your edibles are discovered or tested for any reason, your friendly neighbourhood TSA officer is likely to refer you to law enforcement.
How will laws change in the future?
With the 2018 Farm bill legalizing hemp-derived products and medication like Epidiolex potentially muddying the waters, various authorities have also started to clarify their rulings:
- USDA (US Department of Agriculture) – now accepts Intellectual Property protection applications for hemp products and allows hemp seed imports.
- US Patent Office – may accept registered trademark applications for some hemp products.
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade – will not accept CBD being added to alcoholic drinks until the FDA approves it.
How the TSA will rule on medical marijuana being allowed on flights in the future though, remains to be seen.