When traveling with cannabis, it is important to know that federal law controls interstate commerce, and as a result, it is always illegal to transport your cannabis from one state to another.
It is illegal to possess or transport cannabis under federal law
Even if your state allows the use of cannabis, you can still be arrested and convicted under the Controlled Substances Act, a law that considers the possession of any amount of cannabis a federal misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $1,000 and a maximum sentence of one year in prison. This can happen if you are caught by a federal law enforcement officer, or if you violate any of the eight enforcement priorities outlined here. Currently, under The Obama Administration, federal cannabis laws are not enforced in states where it is legal. This does not apply to diversion, meaning you cannot transport cannabis across state lines.
Some states tolerate possession
20 states have decriminalized cannabis, which means possession of limited quantities of cannabis is handled more like a traffic offense. Depending on the state, you can have anywhere between less than ½ ounce to 3.5 ounces before facing jail time, though you may have to pay a fine. You are allowed to have cannabis on your person or in your private residence, but if you choose to smoke in a public place, decriminalization laws do not apply and you will still be subject to arrest.
Some states have reciprocity
In most cases, your medical card in your home state will not justify your possession of cannabis in another state, but there are a few exceptions. Arizona allows for “visiting qualifying patients” to have possession, whereas Rhode Island respects out of state recommendations. Nevada has reciprocity and Michigan only has reciprocity with states that also have reciprocity. Maine allows patients to use their own supply of cannabis for 30 days (but doesn’t allow them to buy from Maine dispensaries), and Oregon allows out of state patients to register with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.
Keep it mind that this does not mean you can travel with cannabis. It simply means that while you are in the designated state, your possession is justified.
Check here to find out all the reciprocity laws for each state.
Some states are unsympathetic
States like Texas and Alabama have laws with even worse repercussions for possession of cannabis than federal laws. In Texas, possession of less than an ounce of cannabis may lead to 180 days of incarceration and a $2,000 fine. In Alabama, you can spend a year in jail and pay up to a $6,000 fine for possession of any amount. Other states with harsh penalties include: Indiana, Missouri, and Georgia.
Drivers may refuse to be searched
Know your rights! Be polite when engaging with a police officer. If they ask to search your car or person, you can say, “I do not consent to a search.” If they ask more questions, you may say, “I don’t want to answer any questions. Am I free to go?” For more information on this, read NORML’s helpful guide to your rights.
Please note that you CANNOT refuse to be searched if traveling by air.
TSA does not search for drugs at airport security. If they find it by accident, they will refer the matter to the nearest law enforcement officer. We called TSA to find out the likelihood of being referred to a federal versus state officer, but their representative couldn’t say.
Some airports have special rules
States where cannabis has been legalized may have different protocols when it comes to flying. If possible, check the policies of the specific airports you are flying to and from beforehand. For example, travelling with cannabis is allowed on flights within Oregon, while Denver and Colorado Springs airports do not allow flying with cannabis at all. Check out this article for more specific information.
Don’t get caught twice
Multiple arrests can increase your sentence drastically. The second time you get convicted under the Controlled Substances Act, you will face a mandatory minimum of 15 days in jail and up to a $2,500 fine. If you are caught a third time, you will face at least 90 days in jail and pay up to $5,000.