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LAX travelers can carry marijuana — but first they have to get past TSA, police say

LAX airport police say they will allow travelers to carry marijuana in the airport, though the TSA and federal law prohibit marijuana and travelers have to get through TSA checkpoints first, officials said.
LAX airport police say they will allow travelers to carry marijuana in the airport, though the TSA and federal law prohibit marijuana and travelers have to get through TSA checkpoints first, officials said. AP

Los Angeles International Airport is allowing travelers to carry marijuana at the giant hub — news that sent a ripple of glee and surprise across Twitter and Reddit on Wednesday.

“Seems like so long ago when I had to hide a baggie in my undies,” one Reddit user commented.

In reality, the LAX marijuana policy isn’t new. Travelers there have been allowed to carry up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana for personal consumption since January 2018, when California law legalized recreational marijuana in the state, according to Los Angeles Airport Police spokesperson Alicia Hernandez.

“Based on our policy, we’re not going to arrest you or confiscate marijuana,” Hernandez said in a phone interview with McClatchy.

But travelers hoping to carry marijuana through LAX should still be aware that they have to get past U.S. Transportation Security Administration agents at LAX, Hernandez said — and at the federal level, marijuana is still very much illegal.

Planes fly through federal airspace, as the LAX policy webpage acknowledges, meaning federal law prohibiting marijuana possession is applicable.

“We are two different entities,” Hernandez said. “TSA can deny you coming through the checkpoint. The checkpoint is their jurisdiction.”

So what will TSA agents do at LAX?

“TSA’s focus is on terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers,” TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers said in an email, adding that “TSA’s screening procedures, which are governed by federal law, are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers.”

When a TSA agent discovers marijuana on a traveler or in luggage, agents are instructed to refer the violation to law enforcement, Dankers said. That’s the policy regardless of where the traveler is in the country, and regardless of where the traveler is headed — even if the states involved have legalized marijuana.

“Law enforcement officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation or what steps – if any – will be taken,” Dankers said, adding that “whether or not the passenger is allowed to travel with marijuana is up to law enforcement’s discretion.”

Hernandez said if that law enforcement agency is the LAX police department, individuals won’t face arrest.

“We’re not going to be taking any action against you for having that marijuana,” she said.

That doesn’t mean passengers who are held up will make their flight, though — or that marijuana will be legal wherever the traveler lands.

L.A. City Councilman Mitch Englander has proposed marijuana “amnesty boxes” for travelers at the airport to drop their weed into before encountering TSA checkpoints, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year.

“You could be at a minimum held over and searched and miss your flight,” Englander said, according to the Times, even though marijuana is legal in the state.

There are 20 such bins at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where marijuana has been prohibited, despite the fact that it’s legal in Nevada, according to the newspaper.

Other law enforcement agencies in California said air travel with marijuana remains a gray area, CNBC reports.

“We’re really not in a place to do anything,” said Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction over Oakland International Airport, according to CNBC. “If the TSA says we don’t want it [to get into the airport], we would have to intervene.”

It’s a similar situation at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, USA Today reports.

“If the TSA calls us [about finding marijuana], we’d go up and make sure it is within the legal quantity. If it is, we’d just stand by while the passenger decides what to do with it,” said Lt. Mark Gonzales of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, according to USA Today. “TSA may not want it to fly, but that doesn’t mean it is illegal in California.”

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