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How – and why – it’s OK to fly high: thanks Ed Rosenthal

Medical marijuana patients have the right to carry marijuana on an airplane. Airspace is federal territory and interstate travel is federally regulated – where the state’s medical marijuana laws have no influence. But the right to fly with cannabis was earned after law enforcement was constantly challenged to confiscate marijuana from airline passengers. The main challenger: ganja breeding guru Ed Rosenthal.

At Oakland International Airport before a flight in 2011, agents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) discovered marijuana in Rosenthal’s carry-on luggage during a security check (editor’s note: He won’t say how much, but we suspect it was significant). Officers alerted Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputies, who seized the cannabis. Not wanting to miss his flight, Rosenthal documented the incident – and gave some instructions to the officers. “Call your counsel and tell them Ed Rosenthal wants his weed back,” Rosenthal told the officers.

He was right. He got his cannabis back. And as it turned out — and as the TSA made public in 2013 — the TSA has no authority to enforce federal drug laws. And local agencies, which the TSA refers to seized drugs, are required to follow state law.

After the Oakland incident, Rosenthal similarly challenged airports in Portland, Medford and Los Angeles: sailing through security with cannabis in his luggage. Each time his marijuana was seized, he and attorney Lee Berger informed the airport that they were wrong.
And each time the marijuana was returned.

Ultimately, airports adopted policies regarding a patient’s right to travel with medication. In most cases, he took friends to celebrate on the trips to pick up his weed. “I especially like using the material in front of the police as soon as I get it back,” he tells SF Evergreen. Other Oregon airports have adopted similar policies… which surprised even Rosenthal.

“It was pretty amazing because I didn’t even have Oregon registration and I said, ‘I want my medicine back,'” Rosenthal says. “I just said, ‘I’m willing to fight that part too.'”


TSA’s national policy is to refer marijuana to the local police department responsible for policing the airport. That’s good news in half of the country where recreational or medicinal cannabis is legal: law enforcement officers are required to enforce local laws. At San Francisco International Airport, medical cannabis patients can fly with up to 8 ounces — and possibly more, if a doctor’s recommendation indicates more is needed. However, the SFPD’s Airport Bureau says travelers should be aware of and abide by the laws where they are going. At Los Angeles International Airport, the LAPD says it will tolerate “up to an ounce” with a valid ID and verifiable doctor’s recommendation. Police claim that patients must fly into the state with their medicines, but it is usually not their policy to alert authorities on the receiving end. At Mineta San Jose, airport officials do not specify a holding amount, but keep in mind that “[t]ravelers may be asked to show their prescription for medical marijuana.

According to Berger, the Port of Portland’s unspoken policy is not to treat medical marijuana for state-registered patients.


Rosenthal says more airports will make it their policy to respect patients’ right to travel with medicines as more people challenge them. He says it’s easy to do and has simplified it into three easy steps:
*Protest politely, remind officers that they have no legal authority to confiscate your medicine.
*If the marijuana is not returned, ask for a receipt and take a photo or video of the situation. Record the officers’ names and badge numbers.
*When you return from your trip, call the sheriff’s office and politely demand that your marijuana be returned. If it doesn’t have a record of it, you do. Call the media and local activist organizations. Your marijuana has been stolen.

Photo credit: Rex Roof/Flickr

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