As US states continue to legalise cannabis for medical and recreational use, an awkward tangle of conflicting state and federal laws is proving confusing for airport passengers. What have been the unintended consequences of cannabis’s uncertain legal status in the US, and how have airports been affected?
GlobalData Airport Technology explains: “Today, it is legal to use marijuana recreationally in ten states, and 33 states have legalised medical use of the drug. However, airports have found themselves on the front line in the confusing legal picture that has emerged around cannabis in the US. While airport police forces act according to state law, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a federal agency, and US airspace is a federal jurisdiction, so airline policy is a blanket ban on carrying cannabis on flights.”
In an Instagram post, the TSA was at pains to point out that cannabis is not its priority.
“Let us be blunt: TSA officers DO NOT search for marijuana or other illegal drugs,” the agency said. “Our screening procedures are focused on security and detecting potential threats. But in the event a substance appears to be marijuana or a cannabis-infused product, we’re required by federal law to notify law enforcement. This includes items that are used for medicinal purposes.”
This includes cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive substance derived from cannabis and hemp plants. Like cannabis that contains THC (which provides the ‘high’), CBD products are commonly used for a range of conditions. They are legal to buy in many states, but are still forbidden under federal law. Extra confusion around CBD products has been caused by the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalised the cultivation of hemp nationwide and set the stage for industrial-scale CBD production. However, it remains a controlled substance on the federal level.
GlobalData Airport Technology says: “Recent poll data suggests that a large majority of Americans – and even a slim majority of Republicans and over-55s – support legalising cannabis at the federal level. A cohesive, nationwide approach to marijuana policy and enforcement could create more even markets, help wipe out black-market trading and certainly, from an airport perspective, put all passengers and authorities on the same page. The STATES Act, which would entirely hand over enforcement authority for marijuana to individual states, is currently being discussed in Congress. It would go some way to creating a clearer picture on cannabis, because as issues mount, only legislation at the federal level can truly put an end to the confusion surrounding legal cannabis at US airports.”
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