Opinion: Traveling With Medical Marijuana

Opinion: Traveling With Medical Marijuana

Editor’s Note:  One challenge that chronic pain patients who use medical marijuana face is travel. The federal classification of marijuana and the uneven adoption of medical marijuana laws in our states means you have to think about what to do when you get on an airplane. National Pain Report advocates that you comply with US and international law. You should research in advance what the potential legal ramifications may be with respect to traveling with marijuana, or any medication. The opinion and suggestions of this valuable contributor and expert, if followed, could result in legal consequences.

Allie Haroutunian, a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report on issues around medical marijuana, filed this opinion.

Allie Haroutunian

Allie Haroutunian

Travelling with cannabis can be a perilous experience if done incorrectly. It’s also important to note that nothing is foolproof and there are risks — even if you travel smart. So take this with a grain of salt.

I wouldn’t recommend traveling internationally with any illegal substances. The risk is too high, especially with the amount of screening done in the name of security. Also, federal laws come into play once you’re on an airplane or being screened in customs. The TSA’s website states, “TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs. In the event a substance that appears to be marijuana is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”

If you must fly with it — put it in your luggage. Check that bag, especially since the TSA only rifles through random bags — not every single one. Hide it very well [read: creatively], and do not bring over a half ounce. The smell needs to be masked so put some potpourri or coffee beans in your bag if you’re nervous. Mailing packages takes the crime from state to federal crime, too. There are federal minimum sentencing guidelines regarding mail fraud and sending illegal substances which are punishable with a minimum of 10 years in federal prison and $10,000 fine. Mailing internationally is a big no-no, especially for a rookie.

Flower, another name for the marijuana plant material, is a bit trickier. I suggest using mylar bags for all substances, but especially flower. They can’t be x-rayed and are impenetrable to oxygen — which means no smell gets out either. Mylar bags are typically used for extremely long-term food storage and became popular during the Cuban Missile Crisis when people were stocking their bunkers for the apocalypse. They’re very inexpensive and can be purchased in bulk online. Seal them with a flat-iron, or any type of heat sealer. Food Saver bags are a popular go-to item, however they are not a good choice. Oxygen escapes out of those plastic bags — meaning if your cannabis plant material is strong (colloquially referred to as “dank”) than people can smell it. Be careful about trusting your own sniffer because its easy to get used to smells you’re around all the time. People often get caught using Food Saver bags, especially when using the mail.

I would not assume that using Fedex or UPS is safer than the postal service. All mail carriers use multiple safety standards and routinely check their packages on a randomized basis. If you’re sending packages, using a different to and from name doesn’t exclude you from liability, either. But don’t put your real name and return address on the package, thats just common sense. Mailing is the safest route in my opinion.

If you must drive with it — edibles are a good way to go. In inconspicuous packaging, they look like any other snack food. Oils can be masked and hidden. Use the mylar bags for actual plant material. Hide it well and obey all traffic laws.

Make sure you don’t act like you’re hiding something — which is a common mistake people make when they’re doing something illegal. Act cool, calm, and collected at all time. Don’t draw attention to yourself, and stay organized. It may feel like you’re running a drug smuggling operation — and you are. So get in that mainframe to keep yourself safe from the law. This information isn’t meant to scare; it’s meant to educate. It’s important to know the risks ahead of time. It’s likely you won’t be caught but there is a potential.

Happy and safe travels to all!

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Authored by: Allie Haroutunian

There are 13 comments for this article
  1. Allie Haroutunian Author at 3:13 pm

    I’m confused about your statement regarding the DEA. Are you saying that the DEA doesn’t allow patients to obtain a medical marijuana license if they are prescribed opioids?

  2. Lisa at 1:22 pm

    Here’s another toss of thee coin. Medical Marijuana is legal in my state. It is also legal in some of the connecting states. However, the state law says that Medical Marijuana cannot cross state lines. Here’s the problem on that one. I have friends that I stay with in other states, but should I go on the program, I cannot take Medical Marijuana across state lines and the DEA won’t allow for a patient to be on Opioid Medication prescribed if you are on the Medical Marijuana program. So, what’s the patient to do if they want to travel over their own state line and not break the law? Nothing but become a prisoner of their own home or just never leave the state and continue to feel alone.

  3. Kristen Wiggins at 7:21 pm

    The chronic pain community has been marginalized by society, by our doctors, and by our own government. I hope my children – who share my painful connective tissue disorder – will one day live in a country that allows the safe, humane treatment of pain.

  4. Jud at 1:14 pm

    Going into the USA from Canada, people have been turned back at the border, and banned for life from travelling to the US. The border guards ask if you have ever used MJ, and if the answer if “yes”, you are turned away. The problem, they say, is that while some states have legalized, the US federal govt has not, and the border guards are federal, not state, employees.

  5. Doug at 11:42 am

    My feeling is if the DEA continues to refuse the legalization of Marijuana that all 116 million people who suffer from chronic pain should all start carrying Marijuana even if they don’t use it and give a huge FU to law enforcement. The problem isn’t that Marijuana is still illegal, the problem is that the 58% of the country who want it legalized are all a bunch of pansy asses. I garuantee if 100 thousand or more people went to Washington DC and sparked up in front of the white house attitudes would change. I’d like to see the DEA arrest that many people.

  6. JoDawn at 11:21 am

    Still not legal in my state, but I’m sure a lot of pain patients will breathe a sigh of relief when it is legalized at a federal level. It’s just the waiting that hurts.
    Gosh, you’d think with the SS system as it is, the government would LOVE to save billions in Medicare prescriptions.

  7. Bob Schubring at 9:46 am

    These substances are being used by most of us, for self-defense against diseases that interfere with activities of daily living.

    As a community, we need to enbrace that self-defense concept, particularly in our interactions with law enforcement.

    A lot of police officers don’t use cannabis. But nearly all of them use firearns on duty for self-defense. They memorize the lae of self-defense and train on it…knowing exactly what to say, if they ever had to shoot someone, makes the difference between “He kept trying to stab me and I shot him and he stopped stabbing”…that’s self-defense…and “he was a scoundrel nobody would miss”…which gets the cop convicted of murder.

    Certainly there are people who do irresponsible things and consume drugs while doing them. Cops encounter this behavior frequently.

    What they need to be taught, is that people who medicate ourselves for pain relief, so that we are able to function, are acting responsibly. Relieving pain enables us to get out of bed and take care of ourselves and our families.

    In the case of DC v Heller, the Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutional right of self-defense. A drug that defends me against pain, harms nobody. It’s clearly less risky than any of the weapons that are affirmed to be legal under DC v Heller. It makes sense that we have the right to use drugs to defend ourselves from disease. And, in exactly the same principle affirmed in DC v Heller, it is up to the government to prove that we are misusing our meds or our guns. The mere presence of a defensive med or weapon, is not proof of intent to misuse the med or the weapon to cause harm.

    Cops understand these concepts. Let’s get the conversation started.

  8. Allie Haroutunian Author at 8:10 am

    I totally agree, nothing is foolproof.

  9. Allie Haroutunian Author at 8:09 am

    I’m not encouraging people to travel and break local laws. I clearly stated to do this at your own risk. Everyone is an adult and can make their own well thought out decisions…I’m simply giving some advice if one chooses to risk legal trouble.

  10. Kathy C at 8:00 am

    Be careful people. TSA Claims they don’t search for Drugs, yet during one of my travel adventures they found a half of a MJ joint that a teenager had hidden inside a CD case. The poor dumb kid was traveling with his family. There were six of them. The entire family was detained, and from what i overheard where forced to spend the night (at least), and attend a Court Hearing, in a City they did not live in
    I am nosy, one of my “Distraction Techniques” is watching people in Airports. I felt really bad for that Family. In Years gone by they probably would have just confiscated, and the parents would have punished the transgressor. Medical Marijuana is now Legal in this State, but even so, I would advise people to be cautious.
    There is no telling what the reaction of a TSA Officer or other Law Enforcement officer might be. The possibility of Overreaction and Prosecution is always there. Of course they claim they are not “Looking for Drugs.” I don’t even feel safe traveling in my own State, even though it is “Legal.” It just depends on what kind of day a Law enforcement Officer is having. I used to take our “Freedom” for granted, I don’t anymore.

  11. Katy at 7:16 am

    Bad advice! Encouraging travelers to break local laws puts them at terrible risk. Terrible consequences in Idaho for even having marijuana in your system. Canada will detain you and deny entry. State police and customs agents know all these tricks.

  12. Sam at 7:02 am

    I haven’t gotten MJ to work for my pain but I appreciate the posting of this for people. The callous and stupid rats who run our government no doubt receive whatever pain meds they need through their excellent medical insurance.

  13. Mike at 4:32 am

    Very good info. I do know more then most on these subjects but the Mylar bags and ability are new to me so thank you.