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Traveling with Cannabis: What You Need to Know

As the country and world open up again, you may be thinking about doing a road trip or maybe even taking a vacation internationally. But what are your options if you are considering taking your medical cannabis with you? Here is the 411 about travel and cannabis. 

Driving with cannabis in Utah 

Let’s start local and work our way out from there. Under the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, a medical cannabis cardholder can both possess and transport a medical dose of cannabis as well as consumption devices (such as vapes). It is important, however, that you adhere to the recommendations that are spelled out on your particular kind of card and that you stay within the legal limits regarding both the amount of medical cannabis you are traveling with as well as how you transport it. 

For example, let’s say you are a medical cannabis patient in Salt Lake City and you want to go visit family or friends in St. George. Can you take your medical cannabis with you for your trip from one end of the Beehive state to the other? 

The answer is yes, as long as you have your Utah medical cannabis card with you, you are in possession of 113 grams of cannabis flower or less and 20 grams of active THC or less, and the product is less than 60 days old. Additionally, in order to stay within the law, you will need to transport your flower and other products in the original container/package that they came in. This means that it is inside the opaque bag or box given to you by the pharmacy from where you purchased it. Make sure that your cannabis has a label on it that identifies which legal Utah pharmacy you bought it from. 

This legal stipulation applies to cannabis flower, lozenges, gelatinous cubes, and all other legal consumption methods in Utah. In fact, it is illegal under Utah law for a medical cannabis cardholder or other to tamper with, alter or remove any label from a cannabis product. It is also illegal to consume medical cannabis in Utah in a public setting. 

The best course of action, whether you are traveling inside the state or outside of it, is to simply keep your medicine in a closed or locked bag, in the trunk of your car, in a locked glove box, or in another secure location as you travel. When you reach your destination (or a secure location along your route), this would be a great time to consume your cannabis in the privacy of a private residence, hotel room, or campsite. 

Make sure that you also carry your card with you at all times and that it has your name on it. Suppose you are registered with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) as a caregiver of a young adult or another person who legally uses medicinal cannabis. In that case, you may legally transport the patient’s medicine for them, help administer it, and present the patient’s card for them to officials when traveling. Non-cardholders can also assist cardholders while traveling within the state. For example, a non-cardholder that is helping a card-holding cannabis patient can possess, transport, and handle the cannabis for them as long as the cardholder is within the immediate area. 

The most important thing to remember when you are traveling within the state is to make sure you adhere to the guidelines above. While there are legislative movements on both the federal and state levels to lower and/or eliminate harsh penalties for cannabis-related infringements, at the moment many of these penalties are still severe. Most cannabis-related crimes in Utah and in many other states are considered Class B misdemeanors which may result in a $1,000 fine and six months in prison for the illegal possession/use of cannabis. 

The penalties for medical cannabis card holders that violate the law may be less severe in certain instances. Furthermore, a law enforcement official does not have the right to arrest you, take you into custody, or seize your medicine (or devices) based solely on the fact that you are in possession of medical cannabis or cannabis devices, as long as you are a card-carrying medical cannabis patient and you adhere to the guidelines outlined above. If this is the case, you also do not have to consent to a field sobriety test or a search of your vehicle. 

If you need to travel a long distance to visit a pharmacy, it's a good idea to take advantage of WholesomeCo’s Salt Lake City medical cannabis delivery service. WholesomeCo delivers throughout the city, surrounding areas, and even many rural areas across the state reaching 99% of Utah's population. 

Flying with cannabis: what the feds say

What about airplane travel within and outside of the state of Utah? Can you bring cannabis on a plane? When it comes to flying either in-state or out of state with cannabis, this is where it gets complicated. It helps to know a little bit about the current federal stance on cannabis to understand why. 

While medical cannabis is medically legal in Utah and, in fact, is legal (whether medically or for adult use) in most other states in the country, cannabis is still considered an illegal Schedule I substance at the federal level. This means that whether you are flying out of Utah into another state, from another state into Utah, or flying within the state of Utah, you cannot under any circumstances be in possession of cannabis when on board an aircraft, even if it is for medical purposes and you have your Utah medical cannabis card for a qualifying condition with you. 

Why is this the case? Simply put, according to 49 U.S. Code § 40103 (Sovereignty and Use of Airspace), the U.S. government has “exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.” 

In other words, while the ground beneath your feet may be state of Utah property, the air above Utah or any other state is legally federal property (and the public has a “right of transit” through it on board a licensed aircraft). (1) Because airspace is federal property and cannabis is still illegal federally, any possession of cannabis on any aircraft that will go through that airspace is considered illegal. 

Also keep in mind that the TSA these days is fairly lenient at many airports when it comes to cannabis. They are looking more for items that may put passengers at risk, like firearms, not cannabis and do not have the authority to arrest or fine you for it. That being said, if they do find any in your luggage or on your person, they will be obligated to inform the local authorities, who do have the authority to charge you for a crime. (2) 

Driving across state lines with cannabis 

But what about if you are driving, not flying, across state lines? In other words, if you are a Utah resident carrying a legal medical cannabis card for a qualifying condition, can you travel to a neighboring state, for example, while in possession of medical cannabis?

The answer is again, unfortunately, no. And the reason is, again, because of the illegality of cannabis at the federal level. Even if you were going from one state where medical cannabis is legal to another medical cannabis state or adult-use state (such as from Utah to Arizona, for example), it would still be illegal to do so.

The reason is actually two-fold, according to the lawyers at the non-profit consumer legal organization, hg.org. (3). While states have jurisdiction over their laws within their territories, the federal government has jurisdiction when it comes to “interstate commerce.” Interstate commerce is defined as anything (not just saleable items) that crosses state borders, including your medical cannabis. Again, because cannabis of any kind is illegal at the federal level, this means that it would be illegal at state border crossings as well. 

The other reason why it is illegal to transport medical cannabis from state to state is because of the particular nature of state licensing laws for cannabis within each state. In most states, including in Utah, legally grown and obtained cannabis must adhere to strict state standards. For example, cannabis in Utah can only be sold in licensed pharmacies. In some states, it also must be locally grown as well. Each state also has its own rules as to what conditions qualify a person to obtain a card and what consumption methods are acceptable. 

State-specific regulations are also the reason why your Utah-issued medical cannabis card will not always allow you to obtain cannabis in another state (although some states may allow it). In the state of Utah, out-of-state visitors can have medical cannabis in their possession as long as their qualifying condition matches one of the qualifying conditions for the state of Utah and they carry a valid medical cannabis card from their original state.  What’s more, visitors to the state can apply for a “temporary medical cannabis card” up to two times per year, allowing the non-resident patient to purchase cannabis at licensed Utah pharmacies while in the state. The temporary card is good for 21 days. (4) 

Although it is not the norm for law enforcement to arrest someone for possessing small amounts of medical cannabis while driving between states, keep in mind that they are within their rights to do so and sometimes they do. 

International travel with cannabis 

If flying across the United States is precarious, then taking an international flight with your personal stash in tow is even more so. 

There are a couple of reasons for this. If you are taking off from a U.S. airport, then you run again into the illegality of cannabis in federal airspace. Once you land, then you are under the jurisdiction of that country and its laws. And, of course, each country is going to have its own laws regarding cannabis. For example, cannabis is legal in Spain, but flying with cannabis in that country is illegal and can lead to a multi-year prison sentence. 

What about traveling with CBD? 

According to a recent survey, more than half of all people who use CBD do so for anxiety. This is exactly why CBD has become so popular with modern travelers, especially air travelers. The good news is that hemp-based CBD is legal at the federal level, which means it is legal to travel with it across state borders and also on domestic flights, as long as your CBD product contains under 0.3 percent THC. The not-so-good news about traveling, and especially flying with CBD, is that there are some cautions and considerations you are going to want to know about. 

The first consideration is to know the source of your CBD. Remember that hemp is legal in the United States, while THC cannabis is not. If your CBD is derived from THC cannabis, then you may want to think twice about it, even if it meets the under-.3 percent rule. This is especially true for states who may be stricter with their cannabis laws, and especially those few states where cannabis in any form (medical or otherwise) is still illegal. 

The other consideration is for international travel. Remember that even hemp may be illegal in some countries, especially in the European Union. 

The final consideration is the type of CBD consumable you may be traveling with. When flying, TSA personnel may be more suspicious of tinctures, lotions, and other liquid products since these products line up more with potentially hazardous materials. If you do travel with CBD, consider using flower or solid consumables in order to stay under the radar. 

The bottom line: Do your homework before you travel

As you can see, the laws and regulations regarding cannabis and travel can vary greatly from state to state. In addition, cannabis laws are going to vary from country to country as well if you travel outside of the USA. 

The bottom line is to do your own homework before your travel, especially about your destination point if it is outside the state of Utah. Seek legal advice to be absolutely sure if you plan on traveling with cannabis. Fortunately, there are a lot of lawyers out there these days that know cannabis law. 

Ultimately, it is up to you to know your destination state or country’s stance on cannabis and whether medical cannabis is legal there. It is also up to you to seek out legal advice for your unique situation. Be sure to find out if any type of temporary card is available where you are going so that you can potentially purchase product once you arrive as an option. Keep in mind that cannabis continues to be a Schedule 1 controlled substance by federal standards, which means that traveling with it across state lines is still a federal crime. Be aware too that there are still states out there, like the neighboring states of Idaho and Wyoming, where cannabis remains entirely illegal, even for medical use. 

Know your rights and also your limitations and options when it comes to travel and medical cannabis wherever you go. Most importantly, be sure to reach out to us and make an appointment with one of our extremely helpful doctorate-level pharmacists if you are planning a trip and are unsure how you can safely and legally continue to take medical cannabis for your needs while traveling. 

Getting your questions answered regarding this issue and any other topic related to your medical cannabis journey beforehand can save you time and money, and help you achieve success on your own terms. That is what we are here for, so be sure to sign up for a Cannabis Curious FREE consult today. 

 

References: 

  1. Cornell Law School - 49 U.S. Code § 40103 - Sovereignty and use of airspace
  2. TSA - Medical Marijuana
  3. Can You Travel Across State Lines with Legally Obtained Marijuana?
  4. Utah Medical Cannabis Cards for Non-Utah Residents

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