What Really Happens When You Get Caught Traveling Through an Airport With Marijuana

It’s a done deal. Come hell or high water, you’ve chosen to take the risk of smuggling a little weed through the TSA checkpoint because seeking it out at your final destination is annoyingly inconvenient. Rest assured you’re not the only person who has either thought about it or successfully done it. After all, 52 percent of Americans admit they have tried marijuana at least once. And of that 52 percent, 44 percent admit to still using it today. Needless to say, it’s a popular pastime.

When it comes to traveling with marijuana through an airport, the popular belief is that it’s a high-risk endeavor. In some cases, it can be. Below, find out what really happens when you get caught traveling through an airport with your friend Mary Jane.

1. TSA = the Feds

Airport Security bag search by TSA agent
They are the gate keepers to federal law. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

TSA stands for Transporation Security Administration, and despite popular belief, the organization does not solely exist to keep airports safe. The organization has its hands in all of the transportation security pots — pipelines, railways, highways, airports, and maritime. The organization’s omnipresence at airports was bolstered in the wake of the post-9/11 terrorist attacks and has since been executing the efforts of the federal government to keep U.S. airports and the friendly skies safer than ever before.

When it comes to airports, TSA checkpoints mark the threshold between state and federal jurisdiction. Once you’ve passed through the checkpoint, you’re walking on federal turf and should be abiding by federal law.

Next: So you wanna be a small-time smuggler? 

2. You get the nerve to stash it in your carry-0n (or your checked luggage)

If you try to smuggle it, you’re running a huge risk. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

With audacity, you’ve decided you are ready to break the law and smuggle your little bag of weed or edibles to your final destination, via air travel. Sure, you’re an adult, and you aren’t afraid of some pesky TSA agent. You’ve done your homework and applied all the tips that you read on how to properly travel through an airport with weed. It’s smell proof, dog-sniffing proof, and certainly TSA-agent proof. At least you think it is.

Next: Or you’ve decided to carry it on your person.

3. Paranoia will annoy you

He was arrested for assault not for the joint. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Or maybe you took a different route and decided to just carry it on your person in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag. As long as you don’t crumble from anxiety and paranoia, there shouldn’t be a single sneaking suspicion that you’re packing.

For one Hawaiian man, however, traveling with a single joint was too much to bear. He requested to not walk through the full-body scanner, which meant a routine TSA pat-down was in order. Instead of playing it cool, the man (overcome with anxiety) took off running when the agent felt an “anomaly” in his pant leg. He pushed anyone who stood in his way. He was apprehended and arrested for assault, not for the weed.

Next: You are not alone.

4. It’s far more common than you think

TSA Precheck
People bring it through all the time. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

There are countless stories of individuals successfully traveling through TSA, whether they check or carry-on their contraband. Melissa Ethridge is all about it. A major proponent of legalization and marijuana’s medical benefits, Ethridge has made it abundantly clear that she travels (via airports) with her stash. Her doctor provides her with a written note that accompanies the weed in her suitcase, explaining why she needs the herb. Of course, this does not make it legal, but perhaps it is a gesture that softens the edges for TSA agents.

Next: For a hot second, TSA gave the medicine two thumbs up.

5. For about 24 hours, TSA was cool with it

TSA weed allowed
That didn’t last long. | Canna Advisors via Twitter

As anyone following marijuana legalization would know, the federal government still deems the “drug” to be a Schedule I illegal substance. For reference, in the eyes of the feds, marijuana is as dangerous as heroin, meth, LSD, and ecstacy. Yet somehow, for about 24 hours, under the “What Can I Bring” tab on TSA’s website, medical marijuana was given the thumbs up for carry-on and checked luggage.

Next: How does such a slip-up like that happen?

6. Was it a moment of TSA honesty?

TSA weed tweet reply
They’re not looking for them specifically. | AskTSA via Twitter

For some reason, TSA is misinterpreted as the DEA, but they are two very different entities. TSA is looking for explosives, firearms, and terrorists. The DEA is looking for drugs and drug traffickers. Even though TSA issued a statement in regards to its medical marijuana slip-up saying “We’re sorry for any confusion. A mistake was made in the database of our new ‘What Can I Bring’ tool,” many travelers felt it was a nod at explaining that marijuana is not the greatest concern.

For clarification purposes, TSA issued this response: “Our officers are not looking for illegal narcotics, but they have to report them to law enforcement when discovered.”

Next: Here’s what is happening in Colorado.

7. In 2015, Denver International Airport busted 29 people

Denver International Airport
They busted 29 people at the Denver airport in 2015. | arinahabich/ Getty Images

Back in 2015, Denver International Airport (affectionately known as DEN) decided to keep track of just how many people they caught with marijuana. Of the 54 million travelers who ventured through TSA’s corridors, only 29 of them were “busted.” 29! For all of you small-time smugglers, could this be code for ‘the odds are forever in your favor?’

Next: As for 2016, we just don’t know. 

8. In 2016, DEN didn’t even keep count

A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette as photographed
Colorado’s pretty lax about the drug. | Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

To boot, TSA’s interest in catching marijuana-movers in the act is so minimal, they didn’t even keep track of how many of them were being caught with it in 2016. While the bulk of passengers may simply be terrified to carry it, the state of Colorado’s stance on marijuana is obvious. And that stance creates far less hysteria around the plant than any non-legal state could imagine.

Next: So, what happens when you get caught. 

9. At DEN, you’ll be asked to dispose of your weed

A closeup view of marijuana as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
You’ll just be asked to dispose of it. | Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Inevitably, people in airports are caught with weed. In legal states, it’s truly not a big deal (even to the airport). According to DEN spokesperson Heath Montgomery, individuals who are caught with marijuana are just asked to dispose of it. Furthermore, Montgomery explained that “The bottom line is, it’s not an issue.” By and large, TSA seems to have far bigger fish to fry than your little bitty bag of weed.

Next: By all means, do not get cocky about succeeding. 

10. But do know that airport weed is illegal

A closeup view of marijuana as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
You may luck out and get away with it, but they can bust you. | Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Even though legal states’ TSA agents may opt to look away, it should be very clear that possessing, selling, or using marijuana on federal property (airports) is punishable to the full extent of the law. An individual state’s law on medical and recreational marijuana has no bearing on the marijuana penalties associated with getting caught on federal property.

Next: It’s a little different in other states.

11. Other states could be way more strict (if you get caught)

Tampa, Florida, skyline with warm sunset light with a commercial passenger jet airline
Bringing weed to the airport in Florida could mean going to court. | mokee81/ Getty Images

Consider Florida, a state that recently legalized medical marijuana but not the recreational use. The Sunshine State has different approach to the consequences of being caught in any of its airports. Jacksonville International Airport’s Director of External Affairs, Michael D. Stewart, explained that 11 out of 2.8 million passengers screened were either detained or told to appear in court for possession of marijuana.

Next: If you’re going to run with the big boys, be ready.

12. Large amounts = DEA

If you have more than just a personal stash, that’s a problem. | Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

The DEA is never too far away in an international airport. And while TSA may not mind a little joint here and there, it doesn’t take too kindly to big-time drug traffickers. Be certain that TSA will not be turning a blind eye to trafficking bricks upon bricks of marijuana. At that point, offenders should be prepared to have a little sit down with the DEA.

Next: But what about flying internationally? 

13. Flying internationally is a different story

Sniffing dog at the airport
There are more restrictions internationally.  humonia/iStock/Getty Images

When flying within the boundaries of the United States, there are no customs checkpoints. Therefore, if you find yourself in say, Mexico or Jamaica, your precious Mary Jane could be quickly apprehended. Not only are those dogs sniffing for illegal fruits and vegetables, they are also sniffing around for contraband like drugs and weed.

Next: International fines for weed are different.

14. International fines are usually pretty large

Istanbul, Turkey
You can get a huge fine in Turkey. | Nick_Thompson/iStock/Getty Images

Many of the well-traveled people of the world understand that keeping your wits about you is key when you are in a new place or country. Part of that means that if you plan on breaking the law, it would be wise to know what the penalty is. In Laos, getting caught with drugs of any kind could equal a fine of $35,000. Turkey is also known for its hefty fines for being caught with contraband.

Next: Whatever you do, do not get locked up abroad. 

15. In some countries, marijuana could equal jail

Hindu temple on Bratan lake landscape
Bringing weed to Indonesia could mean life in jail. | Zephyr18/iStock/Getty Images

Looking at the big picture, the United States’ consequences for marijuana pale in comparison to other countries in the world. In fact, many middle eastern and African countries take the offense pretty darn seriously. Getting caught with even a small amount just once will equal jail time — sometimes more than one year. Heck, in Indonesia, getting caught with marijuana could put you in jail for life. So while it may seem like fun in games here in the United States, other places around the globe do not find the offense to be a laughing matter.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!