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Taking Cannabis Across State Lines: What You Need to Know

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Taking Cannabis Across State Lines: What You Need to Know
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Taking Cannabis Across State Lines: What You Need to Know

Consumers in more than a dozen states across the USA can now purchase and use cannabis legally. In addition to its longstanding popularity as a recreational mood enhancer, cannabis has shown the potential to help manage symptoms for a wide range of medical conditions, including multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s.

As new therapeutic applications continue to be discovered—and non-medical use becomes more socially acceptable—people of all backgrounds may find themselves with questions about interstate travel with cannabis. Can you bring cannabis products across state lines? Should you take the risk? What about air travel—can you take cannabis to the airport? What are the possible consequences if you get it wrong?

The differing laws from state to state, in addition to the differences between state and federal laws, can make these questions tricky to tackle. To help, we’ve created a guide to traveling out of state with cannabis (or not).

Traveling with Cannabis: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

The surest way to avoid headaches and hassle when it comes to traveling across state lines with cannabis is simple—don’t do it in the first place. But this isn’t always a realistic solution for everyone. People who use cannabis medicinally, for example, may feel the need to keep a reliable supply available at all times because it’s an essential part of managing their symptoms.

With cannabis still technically illegal under federal law, it’s important to understand that the potential for serious consequences exists even when you’re transporting marijuana between two fully legalized states. Although criminal charges are very unlikely with normal, responsible use that falls within the limits of state law, the strange contradictions between state and federal laws nonetheless exist. In most cases, it’s well worth your while to remain wary.

Penalties for the transportation, possession, and use of cannabis remain very serious under federal statutes, as well as in those states where cannabis is still prohibited or restricted. The potential consequences of transporting cannabis in the United States can include multiple years in prison and many thousands of dollars in fines.

Even fully legalized states may have laws on the books that will result in stiff legal penalties unless you transport your cannabis in a very specific way. For this reason, you should always educate yourself about your state’s laws before transporting cannabis, even if you’re just bringing it back to your home across town from the dispensary. When transporting cannabis across state lines, you need to know the laws of both your origin and destination states, as well as any states in between.

So, why would someone risk transporting cannabis products in the first place? There are a few possible reasons:

Medical Need

Many people use cannabis to relieve the symptoms of serious medical conditions and chronic illnesses. For most recreational users, going a weekend without cannabis is an inconvenience at worst. For medical marijuana patients, traveling without medication could mean putting themselves at risk for seizures, debilitating pain, or mental health crisis.

Uncertain Supply at the Destination

If you’re going somewhere unfamiliar, you may not be sure of your ability to obtain cannabis at your destination. This can make transporting your own cannabis seem like an attractive option. However, a little research beforehand goes a long way. Is it really worth the stress of transporting cannabis across state lines if a quick search would have told you about a dispensary within walking distance of your hotel?

Be smart. If the reason you’re worried about getting cannabis at your destination is because you’re going to a state where cannabis is still illegal, you’re putting yourself and your travel plans at risk by breaking the law.

Business Activities

The rapid expansion of cannabis-based businesses throughout the United States means that people often need to transport cannabis or cannabis-related materials for commercial purposes. This can mean traveling to trade shows, bringing samples to a potential business partner, or routine shipments from suppliers to retail outlets. These transportation rules vary state to state. 

Traveling with Cannabis: The Basics

Traveling with Cannabis: The Basic

Despite all the confusion resulting from differing laws in each state, there are a few key tips to remember:

  • Know the laws in your home state and in any state(s) you plan to travel to. (More on state laws later.)
  • A medical marijuana certification, otherwise known as a medical marijuana card, is not a “get out of jail free” card. Some medical states do allow you to possess marijuana based on a certification issued by another medical state, but not all states have this sort of reciprocal certification. Unfortunately, if you travel to a state that doesn’t allow the use of medical cannabis at all, your certification is meaningless. Authorities in that state can arrest you for possession and charge you criminally, despite being registered as a medical cardholder in your home state.
  • Cannabis is still federally illegal.

What You Need to Know About Cannabis and Federal Law

As we’ve already mentioned, cannabis remains prohibited under federal law in the US, and the consequences can be very serious. Even a first-time offense of simple marijuana possession can result in up to one year in prison and $1,000 in fines if prosecuted under federal law.

Most people don’t interact with federal law enforcement officers on a day-to-day basis and,as a result, you may think that getting caught up in a federal drug case because you stopped at a dispensary on your road trip is an unrealistic scenario. In most cases you’d probably be correct—but “unlikely” and “impossible” are two vastly different things. 

The reality is that you are breaking federal law any time you transport cannabis or cannabis-derived products across state lines. This is true even if you’re transporting correctly stored, properly labeled medical marijuana between two fully legalized states. It’s also important to understand that federal agents may be more prevalent than you realize. 

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and customs personnel at the airport are both types of federal law enforcement agents, as are the border patrol agents you will encounter at checkpoints if you’re traveling anywhere near a US border or coastline. As a result, the likelihood of interacting with a federal agent at some point during routine travel is actually higher than you might think. This isn’t to say that TSA and border patrol are targeting civilians buying legal cannabis and using it responsibly, but the potential to be charged with a serious crime still exists for anyone who crosses paths with a federal agent while in possession of cannabis.

Remember—federal jurisdiction includes:

  • Airports
  • Commercial airplanes
  • Military bases
  • Interstate highways
  • Anywhere within 100 miles of a U.S. border or coastline

Until federal law catches up with the will of the people in our many legalized states, it’s important to be aware that any attempt to transport marijuana across state lines is still a serious federal crime.

The Perils of Airline Travel with Marijuana

Due to the nature of airline travel, which sees people and goods constantly moving between states that share no physical barriers, it makes sense that airports and passenger planes fall under federal jurisdiction. Because the United States has not yet legalized marijuana on the federal level, federal enforcement agencies like the TSA and the US Marshals do not recognize any state’s marijuana laws. Thus, air travel with cannabis is extremely risky under any circumstances.

Security personnel at airports and on airplanes are federal law enforcement agents. They can potentially detain and arrest anyone in possession of cannabis. This is true even if you have a current, valid medical marijuana license and all your cannabis is properly stored and labeled in accordance with your state’s law.

Some medical patients have reported that TSA agents have allowed them to board planes while openly carrying marijuana, so long as they had their valid registration paperwork and travel documents. It’s extremely important to note this is not the norm - this policy appears to vary from airline to airline, airport to airport, or even day to day depending on internal policies at the TSA. The risk of being arrested for drug trafficking, a charge with significant repercussions, makes air travel unreliable as a method for transporting cannabis, to say the very least.

After the Airport

Even if you make it from one airport to the next, private ground transportation companies also reserve the right to expel any passenger if they are aware that said passenger is carrying cannabis. This includes bus lines, trains, and car rental companies.

Ground transportation also features some contradictions in rules and policies that can serve to make users uncertain from one situation to the next. Take a look at how different ride sharing companies feel about cannabis. Uber’s terms and conditions prohibit using the service “to commit any crime such as transporting drugs… or to violate any other law.” Yet, the company has sponsored cannabis-related festivals and events in the past. Lyft enacts a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy for drivers, but only prohibits passengers from having open containers of alcohol.

Carry-On or Checked Bag?

There is no good answer as to whether it is safer to bring cannabis in your carry-on or your checked baggage, because cannabis is still federally illegal and not at all encouraged. All types of airline baggage are subject to random search by authorities. You may not be present to speak for yourself if your checked baggage is pulled aside for a random search. On the other hand, your carry-on bags are typically subjected to a higher level of scrutiny during the pre-boarding security process.

Is the TSA Out to Get Me?

Some of the overall confusion regarding whether flying with cannabis is allowable under the current regulations goes back to statements made by the TSA itself.

The TSA, while certainly a law enforcement agency, is not explicitly considered a drug enforcement authority. According to some experts, its agents do not even have the legal authority to make “drug busts.” A TSA representative speaking with the New York Times recently implied as much, saying that the agency is focused on “terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers.” Most security experts would say that cannabis does not typically fall under that purview. TSA K9 force, for example, is trained to sniff out explosives rather than drugs.

Driving Cannabis Across State Lines

Another potential way to move cannabis from one state to another is in a privately owned, properly registered passenger vehicle. Carrying cannabis in a car typically subjects you to less scrutiny from law enforcement officials than bringing bags through an airport, though,conventional wisdom states that a car is more dangerous because police sometimes target out-of-state drivers when making traffic stops. In many places, a police officer can legally demand to search your car with no better reason than believing it smells like marijuana.When using a car to transport cannabis, you need to know the laws for both your origin and destination states, including:

  • The amount of cannabis you can legally possess
  • Storage requirements
  • Labeling requirements

If your trip involves crossing more than one state line, you also need to know the laws for every state in between your origin and destination. For example, Michigan and Illinois are both fully legalized states, but if you were to drive cannabis from one to the other, you would probably be committing a felony. That particular trip requires going through either Wisconsin or Indiana, both states where marijuana is still completely prohibited.

Cannabis in the Car

No matter what state you’re in or what state you’re traveling to, it is never legal or appropriate to use cannabis while operating a motor vehicle. The same goes for allowing passengers to use cannabis in a moving vehicle. Further, most states have very particular rules about how cannabis must be stored and handled when transported in a car. For example, most states require cannabis not be stored anywhere within easy reach of the driver.

In many states, the same open container laws that make it illegal to drive with an open beer apply to cannabis products as well as alcohol. Many people want to save the last quarter of a joint to use later instead of wasting it—but, the increased penalties for having an open container in your vehicle make transporting a partially-used product just not worth it. Leave any partially consumed cannabis products at home. If you’re already on the road, throw them out before you get back in the car.

Cannabis State Travel Laws

Cannabis State Travel Laws

Let’s take a look at some of the differences in legal cannabis regulations from state to state. Contact your state’s regulatory authority or a trusted industry professional for further guidance.

Arizona (legalization since 2020; medical since 2010)

  • Limits on recreational marijuana in Arizona are tallied per purchase. Each purchase is capped at:
    • 1 ounce of flower
    • 5 grams of concentrates
    • 100 mg of edibles, with no single piece surpassing 10 mg
  • Public use of cannabis is prohibited, with an exception stating that registered medical users may legally consume edibles in public.
  • Medical users are tracked through a state allotment system, which indicates how much medical marijuana a patient has consumed and shows them how much more they may buy that year. This can also be checked at a dispensary.
  • Arizona does have a reciprocity program, meaning medical consumers may purchase the same amounts allotted to Arizona medical marijuana patients.

Read More About Arizona Cannabis State Laws  

Illinois (legalization since 2020; medical since 2013)

  • Adult residents can possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, or 500 mg of cannabis infused products (i.e., edibles) at any given time.
  • The limits for non-residents are cut in half, meaning someone traveling from out of state cannot legally possess more than 15 grams (about a half ounce) of cannabis flower.
  • Only registered medical marijuana patients are allowed to grow their own plants in Illinois. If someone without a valid medical marijuana license is found growing plants for personal use, they will be fined $200, but will not be criminally charged unless they are growing more than five plants.
  • Illinois does not offer medical reciprocity, meaning medical cannabis users cannot access medical menus.

Read More About Illinois Cannabis State Laws

Maryland (medical since 2013; decriminalization in 2016)

  • Maryland is currently a medical-only state, but the possession of small amounts of cannabis and paraphernalia were decriminalized in 2016.
  • Maryland does not currently offer medical marijuana reciprocity.
  • Maryland is strict about growing cannabis. Not even licensed medical patients can grow their own medicinal cannabis. All growers and producers must be licensed through the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission, which can be a tedious process involving background checks and more.

Read More About Maryland Cannabis State Laws

Massachusetts (legalization since 2016; medical since 2012)

  • A user can possess up to an ounce of cannabis in public but is allowed to have up to 10 ounces stored at home.
  • Massachusetts does not currently honor medical marijuana reciprocity.
  • Cannabis plants grown for personal use cannot be visible to the naked eye from any public location and must be securely locked.
  • Massachusetts has some of the strictest testing procedures for cannabis products in the US. Some of this is due to the state’s comprehensive pesticide ban.

Read More About Massachusetts Cannabis State Laws

Michigan (legalization since 2018; medical since 2008)

  • Michigan residents 21 and up can legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis.
  • Michigan’s medical marijuana program does not offer reciprocity with other state-approved medical marijuana programs.
  • Michigan residents can grow up to 12 plants for their own personal use, which do not count against the 2.5-ounce limit until harvested.
  • A first-time cannabis DUI arrest carries a maximum sentence of up to 93 days in prison, a fine between $100 and $500, and/or 360 hours of community service. Sentencing for repeat DUI offenders becomes progressively more severe.

Read More About Michigan Cannabis State Laws

Nevada (legalization since 2016; medical since 2000)

  • Recreational users can possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis or 3.5 grams of concentrate at any given time. Medical users can purchase up to 5 ounces each month but no more than 2.5 ounces in any 2-week period.
  • Nevada offers medical marijuana reciprocity, meaning medical patients from other state-approved medical marijuana programs may purchase the quantity available to Nevada MMJ patients.
  • Nevada residents can only grow their own cannabis if they live more than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary.
  • Despite Las Vegas’s reputation as a party city, cannabis cannot be used in public.

Read More About Nevada Cannabis State Laws

Ohio (medical since 2016)

  • As of this writing, cannabis use and possession in Ohio is only legal for registered medical patients.
  • Ohio does not have MML reciprocity with other states, meaning that your medical marijuana license issued in another state holds no legal weight whatsoever when traveling in Ohio.
  • It costs $50 to apply for a MML in Ohio, in addition to any charges from your healthcare provider. Veterans and indigenous persons may be eligible for a reduced $25 rate.
  • The combustion of cannabis is explicitly illegal in Ohio. This means that while dispensaries can sell medicinal flower, that flower must be vaped rather than smoked to remain in compliance with Ohio law.

Read More About Ohio Cannabis State Laws

New Jersey (legalization since 2021)

  • Anyone over the age of 21 can possess up to 6 ounces of cannabis or 17 grams of hash. There are no limits for medical users who are confined to hospice care or terminally ill.
  • Reciprocity rules are in place in New Jersey, meaning those with a medical card from another state are privy to the same rules as New Jersey MMJ patients.
  • State law in New Jersey states that cannabis should always be kept at the user’s private residence except when transporting it from the dispensary.
  • Cannabis edibles with marketing or packaging that could appeal to children are illegal in New Jersey.

Read More About New Jersey Cannabis State Laws

Pennsylvania (medical since 2016)

  • Recreational cannabis remains illegal in Pennsylvania, though some metropolitan areas have passed laws decriminalizing small amounts.
  • Pennsylvania does not offer MMJ reciprocity.
  • Pennsylvania House Bill 163, signed into law in 2018, effectively repealed a controversial policy known colloquially as “smoke a joint, lose your license”. Under this law, cannabis possession in any amount was subject to a mandatory six-month driver’s license suspension. Penalties for minor cannabis offenses are now less harsh.

Read More About Pennsylvania Cannabis State Laws

The Best Option: Don’t Take Risks with Cannabis State Laws

Cannabis State Laws

Unfortunately the best option isn’t the most convenient. Anywhere cannabis is only legal with a medical card means you can only buy and use marijuana legally in the state you are a cardholder in. Of course, anywhere cannabis is now recreationally legal, anyone over the age of 21 can also purchase. Be sure to always keep in mind, if you are traveling to a state you are not a cardholder in, that doesn’t mean you can purchase legally there. Knowing the current cannabis laws by state is your safest bet.

Need help? Zen Leaf operates dispensaries across ten states, with friendly, knowledgeable staff. Reach out if you need help navigating the complicated world of cannabis. We’re always here to answer any questions you have.

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Posted on: November 19, 2021
Danyal Swan
Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.
Danyal Swan

Danyal Swan

Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.
Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the Website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult your primary care physician or other qualified healthcare provider prior to using cannabis or a cannabis product for treatment of a medical condition.
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