Last October, medical pot patient Lori—who asked that we not use her last name since she can be fired for using marijuana—flew from Sea-Tac Airport to California while carrying her stash. "I didn't want to get busted for smuggling or anything, so I called the TSA officer over, gave him my license, and let him know I was traveling with marijuana. He said, 'no problem,' and ushered me right through."
Last month, she did the same thing at Sea-Tac Airport, but instead of allowing her past security without a scene, the screener pulled her aside and called in a TSA manager, who then called in the Port of Seattle police.
"They took a whole police report, but they didn't confiscate anything," Lori explains. "They told me that in three or four weeks I might get a letter from the prosecutor's office, and there might be a fine."
But Port of Seattle police sergeant Jason Coke is surprised by the case. "As far as we're concerned, [cannabis] is personal property," he says. Although certain personal property is banned on airplanes, he explains, pot isn't, assuming it weighs less than the legal possession limit.
"This isn't illegal for them to fly with," Coke says.
Coke looked up Lori's case and found records of her driver's license, boarding pass, medical cannabis authorization, and stash of pot. He says port police generally report case outcomes to the TSA, and officers document the amount of pot—and that the person was legally entitled to possess it—to show the federal agency that police have done their due diligence, despite letting most fliers keep their cannabis. In Lori's case, no report was sent to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, and he assures me the port police will do no such thing.
TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers says airport screeners don't specifically search for illegal drugs. "If an officer discovers an item that may violate the law during security screening, even in states where marijuana is legal, TSA will refer the matter to law enforcement to make a determination on how to proceed."
Sergeant Coke suggests a few practical tips when flying with cannabis: Don't draw attention to yourself. Don't have outstanding warrants. Carry it on, don't check it—proving you qualify to legally possess pot is easier in person. And allow for an extra half-hour in case, as with Lori, police want to photograph your stash.