Is cannabis legal in the US? Anyone even vaguely familiar with the topic knows this is a more complex question than it seems. Since California became the first state in the nation to legalize medical cannabis in 1996, a wave of marijuana legalization – for recreational use as well as medical – has swept across the country. Colorado and Washington were the first two states to legalize recreational cannabis, and others have followed suit. Today, it is legal to use marijuana recreationally in ten states, and 33 states have legalized medical use of the drug.
While states are increasingly legalizing or decriminalizing pot, federal law still regards cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act 1970, ranking it alongside heroin and psychedelic substances for its potential for abuse and addiction.
So, in many states the possession and sale of weed is legal locally but illegal federally, with federal agencies – for the most part – refraining from enforcing federal in states where the drug has been legalized. This awkward legal grey area has been causing problems between legalization states and federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, for example, has banned the export of marijuana produced legally to any other state, partly to avoid conflict with the DEA.
Marijuana legalization: state vs federal law
In many ways, 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.
“It’s a tangled web for sure,” Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell attorney told Bloomberg in November 2018. “Airports are having to come to grips with this in a way that nobody expected a few years ago.”
As a federal agency, the TSA is required to flag any cannabis or cannabis-related products to local law enforcement. In an April 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.”
Published: November 07, 2019