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TSA Flip-Flops on Medical Cannabis

April 5, 2017
DIA: Leave your weed in the amnesty bins and douse your vape batteries, please.
You are now free to move about the country with your medical marijuana. Or maybe not.

Earlier today, Transportation Security Administration officials seemed to have quietly revealed a major policy change by posting an update to one of its web pages. On TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” page, at 9am PDT, medical marijuana was marked with a green “Yes”:

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 10.17.04 AM

The change on TSA’s web site was first reported this morning by Tom Angell.

“TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs,” agency officials wrote on the TSA site. “In the event a substance that appears to be marijuana is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”

But then, shortly after Leafly contacted TSA’s public affairs office to confirm the change this morning, the website changed. At 10:55am PDT, the website read:

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 11.06.28 AM

The reference to medical marijuana disappeared a few minutes after TSA public affairs manager Lorie Dankers commented to Leafly on the original change. She framed the web page change as a clarification of TSA’s existing policies on medical cannabis.

“TSA’s response to the discovery of marijuana is the same in every state and at every airport – regardless of whether marijuana has been legalized in a state,” she wrote. “TSA’s focus is on terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers. 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.”

“As has always been the case,” Dankers added, “if during the security screening process an officer discovers an item that may violate the law, TSA refers the matter to law enforcement. Law enforcement officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation or what steps – if any – will be taken.”

The TSA public affairs office also sent this information to Leafly:

• Marijuana remains an illegal substance under federal law.

• The passenger’s originating and destination airports are not taken into account. Airport law enforcement will be notified if marijuana is discovered by a TSA officer during the security screening process of carry-on and checked baggage.

• Whether or not the passenger is allowed to travel with marijuana is up to law enforcement’s discretion.

Then, at 11:45am PDT, the third act dropped: TSA officials completely reversed the advisory in a revised post.


After the final revision of the advisory–to “NO”–Dankers replied to Leafly’s question about the flip-flop.

“There was an error in the database of the ‘What can I bring?’ tool that is now corrected,” she wrote. “The information that I provided to you earlier is correct. And do note, the TSA website had been corrected as well.

The original change represented a major breakthrough for medical cannabis patients. Hundreds of thousands of patients must either leave their medicine at home and try to obtain it in another state (which is usually impossible), or travel with it and risk being stopped by TSA officials. Screeners in some airports, like Denver, have generally taken a hands-off approach to cannabis in recent years. Screeners in other cities have not.

Just to be clear: The Transportation Security Administration is a federal agency. It is a subdivision of the US Department of Homeland Security. The original web site change represented the first time a federal agency had specifically allowed (or at least ignored) the possession of medical marijuana by a member of the general public.

But now, apparently, that is not the case.

Bruce Barcott and Gage Peake's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott and Gage Peake

Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott is a Guggenheim Fellow and the author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America. Gage Peake is a Leafly staff writer and a recent journalism graduate of the University of Nebraska.

View Bruce Barcott and Gage Peake's articles

  • Sherrie H.

    Well this article didn’t clear up anything. They don’t check for drug’s? Haha that’s a joke matter of fact they absolutely get off when they do catch someone with just a marijuana cigarette and a big to do is made about it and then someone else is jailed for a plant God made for us to use but that’s not what the government wants to hear or should I say dea bc it’s such a easy bust to them.

    • Gregg Ingle

      I just flew from nor cal to tenn with a oz of the kind i didnt try to hide it i simply double bagged so as to keep the odor from offending any others and packed it in my backpack in the bottom and went about my business as usual i got no problems from anyone and this is like at least the 10th time ive done it never been stopped or harassed

      • Superdude

        Lol, you just double bagged it? Thats awesome. I have some stuff that double bagging wouldnt do. Need a sealer. Do you check it? They dont pressurize the hold. The cabin is around 8k feet. I had a sealed pound pop in my car once in a car going from 1400 feet up to about 7200. Super uncomfortable drive. Soooooo, I’m completely impressed you have never had an issue with smell in 10 times.

        • Jennifer

          Superjoy, my friend, I present to you:

          • Superdude

            LOL, they have been around. I don’t fly enough to of set the costs but the seem to work. I had a friend use one travelling to SD and back. I hope Gregg is listening.

      • Truth Sooth

        Hey, just a heads up triple G, from a double G-ory. You know this is open to the public right. Full name much… Unless that is not your actual legal name.

    • Double Gemini

      Are you talking about Denver airport?

  • Sherrie H.

    When you make it no longer illegal there will be less crimes and just maybe people who suffer from chronic pain will have a choice to help them instead of the only option ww,have now is dangerous opioids to help us which have awful side effects. Side effects of medical marijuana; less pain easier to deal with the pain a actual appetite (opioids take appetite away) and you are not out of it and able to actually get some real restful sleep.

    • Knapweed

      Cannabis conveys all those benefits PLUS, you can still take a dump without the feeling you’re trying to extrude a house brick.

      • Jason Shimberg

        If Trump turns into a mad dog first, instead of bunny rabbit second.

      • Sherrie H.

        I know that’s so right sorry it’s taken this long to respond but it’s been one problem after another. Gentle hug to you. #spoonie #finromylgiasucks

  • But when they refer the issue to “law enforcement” aren’t they talking about local law enforcement, which is there to enforce the laws of the city (and county and state) the airport is in? Is there federal law enforcement (outside of TSA) stationed at the airport?

    • Miles Monroe

      It really does depend on the airport–local TSA supervisors are given a lot of latitude in how they handle non-safety/security issues like this–but generally speaking, in a state where, say, a patient could legally have a baggie of weed, they won’t hassle it if they find a baggie of weed*; a large bag of weed, or a baggie of white powder, on the other hand … (per screener relative)

      As a rule, fed LE would only be routinely stationed at airports which are points of entry into the country, along with Customs and INS.

      * … and you should put that s*** in your carry-on bag, because like a camera, laptop, or anything else of value, it will disappear from your checked luggage.

    • justadbeer

      It varies from state to state, airport to airport. The Wayne County Airport Authority Police provides law enforcement and security for Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Willow Run Airport here in MI. and I believe they are a branch of the Sheriffs Dept.

    • dspl

      Once something goes into a scanner at the airport it is under/within federal jurisdiction. The law enforcement officer has a certain amount of discretion in applying law, so people acting like jerks may have a different outcome than someone who acts respectfully and who chooses their words carefully.

  • Debbie Moore Nahhas

    Such a long way to go, smh

  • Stephany

    I traveled recently from Oregon to California via plane and was unable to take my medical marijuana. I had to take opiates and powerful muscle relaxants to function at my grandmother’s 100th birthday party, because, hey, those are legal.

    • Miles Monroe

      Out of PDX? Did you try?

      • Sherrie H.

        I would like to know and try!!

    • Bob

      They are legal. But let’s face it you need a Doctor’s prescription and not any Doctor is going to hand out pain meds that easily at least where I live.

    • Sherrie H.

      That’s what’s so f…..up!! Yes they are legal addictive and break families apart and expensive for cost of Doc then gas back and forth and then the meds cost to boot!! Can go well into couple of thousand dollars easily.

  • Richard W. Campbell

    Last year I flew from Denver to Orlando with some goodies in my checked bag (5/8 oz of flowers) plus other items. Honestly, when I arrived in Orlando, I was shitting bricks. Not to mention that small tye wraps to secure zippers was broken. Which I thought could be an indication that someone looked in my bag. Fortunately, nothing happened. I don’t think I will do that again. Maybe just small personal stash in my carry on or my person.

    • Alan479 Martin

      You should have checked the weight before and after. They may have activated an on the spot ‘tax’.

      • Richard W. Campbell

        Thx for your response. I had one other safeguard in place. Nothing was tampered with. I’ve heard that at DIA if you are caught with cannabis that might force you to toss it or the TSA agent may call the authorities. If the authorities wanna get involved they could just fine you ($1000.00). TSA’s job is to check for weapons and explosives etc, not cannabis. However, I’m sure many folks travel with cannabis. I’m sure some TSA agents want to just ” just keep it moving”. Their job is hard enough as it is. In other words more often than not, traveling with cannabis is fine as long as you are not carrying a large amount. But it still remains a crap shot

  • robert poller

    It’s against federal law to transport, Marijuana across state lines.
    I’ve traveled all over the county,Carrying my Medical. Never been caught or if they did find it.nothing was said.
    Feds can hit you with the RICO ACT,

  • FeshonALfliP

    I abhor the federalis. Hate them with a passion.

  • Kate Tackett

    Her last name is Dankers? That is hilarious.

    • T-Bone Rox

      but does she participate in the dank?

  • Max

    Last summer I traveled from colorado back to the midwest and was simply passing through wyoming. I was stopped and arrested in wy for felony possession of liquid mj, the same amount readily sold to me from just 1 collective in colorado. The case is still open, but comes to sentencing in may. Can anyone out there offer any assistance or guidance in how to handle this before I have to serve serious jail time for traveling with my own personal medicine. The attorney I hired seems to be stuck in the wyoming laws and unwilling to see the medical benefits that the rest of the nation is educated on.

    • Superdude

      “The attorney I hired seems to be stuck in the wyoming laws” Dude, what are you talking about? It’s his job. Literally, by definition. In fact he took a really tough test just to make sure he was stuck in WY law. Do you think he can just change WY law for you? Maybe with enough kick backs but come on? What are you talking about?

      Look, Im sorry this happened to you but what you did was ill-advised. We all argued the 10th amendments for why Colo should have the right to control cannabis, under that same thought WY has the right to not be that way. You made a poor choice and took a calculated risk and lost. We have all done it. Some times you get away with it, others not. Pay your fine and time. Move on. Understand the laws and don’t “simply pass” thru ass backwards places.

      I myself have flown to HI, CA, and AZ all without issue, although I only take homemade edibles. These places have laws in place. I chose them specially. There are certain places I wouldn’t even travel thru. WY is one of those. Hope you learned from this man.

      Good luck.

  • Logan5

    I have been shipping my luggage to my hotel for over 3 decades. When I arrive at the airport, all I carry is a bag with my laptop and a few personal items. When I arrive at my hotel, My bag is already there and waiting. Some hotels will actually deliver your package to your room with a box cutter for opening. Not that I have illegal drugs or anything, just makes traveling 100X more comfortable.

  • Amanda Wang

    Wow, good one Leafly. Just another reason why Leafly sucks. This is terrible PR for Leafly, why would they brag about pushing TSA to take a step backwards in the movement.

    • Rebecca Kelley

      Thanks for your comment, Amanda! It’s customary for news publications to reach out to a source and verify/fact check a detail in a story before publishing, which is what we were doing when we contacted a TSA representative to verify that the information on the administration’s website was accurate. I would imagine that had any other publication reached out for comment, it would have reported the outcome just as we did.


        Thanks Rebecca! Very good point.
        Leafly is an excellent source for info. Kudos for following up…documenting…correcting.
        These are all excellent journalism practices and you (and Leafly) should be commended on your actions.
        Visit us on Leafly!

    • Alan479 Martin

      The trouble with getting an official verification is that no one wants to admit when something is becoming legal after being so viciously enforced as being illegal. It will be quietly changed to avoid various ignorant public factions from outrage, calling for official heads to roll. Alcohol prohibition was ended in 1933 for basically the same reasons as MJ. The country was in a depression and needed to energize the economy. It’s all about the dollar. It took the government only 13 years 1920-33 to realize that they could be getting big alcohol money instead of it going to the Mafia. It has now taken them 80 years to realize the same for MJ. It would have never happened if it was only blacks that used it but now huge numbers of whites who have bought it illegally paved the way for the government to see it as another alcohol potential tax boon.

    • JonathanCrane

      That’s an incredibly short-sighted view of the situation. They pushed for the TSA to clarify their stance because, you know, having a clear policy would be a really good idea for someone that may get caught up in a security grab. Also, the TSA aren’t the ones dictating the rules and “taking a step back.” That’s federal law that they’re enforcing. Blame the “booze is okay, opiates are cool. Pot NOT!”

      I applaud Leafly for pressing them to remove what could have been a very frightening bit of entrapment.

      • Amanda Wang

        I disagree with your statement. The YES/YES was clear and it provided safety for patients. This is a step back because of how the three branches of government work. Please read my previous reply for a more in depth answer at why this is a step back. For the record, that is NOT how entrapment works, no one can make an argument for entrapment based on a TSA website, you’d have to be in a situation where someone is wearing a wire and you are part of an illegal drug deal. Any patient prosecuted while the TSA said YES/YES on their website had a fighting chance in court. Now all patients prosecuted under NO/NO will have NO chance in hell. It’s a one way ticket to jail for interstate trafficking (which is what people commenting on RICO are referring to). This guy below, “Alan479 Martin”, seems to get it. I suggest calling your attorney for a quick explanation of how this could be interpreted as gross negligence or journalistic irresponsibility on the part of Leafly. Leafly is no longer a blog, it’s socially powerful to effectuate change. And it just did… for the worse.

  • Jeannie Allen

    Can’t wait for the Feds tp get their noses out of this—they should all be attending AA meetings for cripes sake! Gov SUCKS!

  • three3eight .

    But i have a doctors note! Seriously though, that doesn’t matter?! Christ! Sort your fucking shit out America! Fuck!

    • commander.mcjeff

      You are talking to a country that just elected an anti-cannabis orange colored howler monkey for president and a country that also favors legalization. Go figure

      • Sherrie H.

        They should go with the country we pay their bills.

  • Tamara Flick-Parker

    One word: EDIBLES

    • Richard W. Campbell

      Thanks Tamara, I have never tried edibles but I am willing to know.

      • Tamara Flick-Parker

        Well, in the dispensaries where I live, they sell candy(?) and something called “Shatter”. I’ve only ever eaten homemade brownies or cookies. I’ve never bought anything from a dispensary that was edible. Someone I know was suggesting that the next time I get the flu I could use edibles instead. I had it really bad a couple of months ago and couldn’t smoke because it was an upper respiratory flu. My migraines and insomnia was out of control. Towards the end I just gave in and smoked a little. Coughed my brains out, but at least had relief for the other problems. Next time I’ll know better. Maybe I’ll make some cookies ahead of time and put them in the freezer. Just don’t like to eat sugar or wheat when I’m sick. Anyway, if you made small cookies or brownies, they would have to eat one or somehow test it to know that there’s weed in it. They’re probably a safe bet. The “Shatter” would be labeled and say what strain was in it . I’ve never looked, so don’t know. Good luck!

    • Edgar Martinez

      Or oil cartidges

  • Burt Michaels

    The First American Revolution was about Tea, right? That’s what they taught us in grade school, that the shipload of tea in Boston harbor was the tipping point of Colonial frustrations with Royal taxation. They burned the ship, with the help of Native American guerrilla fighters. It sent a signal to England that we were not gonna take it any more.

    Well, of course, none of those things really happened, at least not as told. But I can tell you this – there’s power in mythos. Our media society recognizes that like no other. I’m not really a political guy. But if I hear that the Feds are mobilizing against legal businesses in Colorado, Washington or elsewhere, I know a bunch of former Marines and PNW woodrats with Ruger Mini-14s who are generally more in favor of States’ rights and wouldn’t mind creating a myth or two.

    • Anthony Holt

      Give it time prohibition ended eventually.

    • Mikki Mise

      actually the white men dressed as Native Americans to pass the blame to them… yeah no real Native Americans were involved(and why in the hell would they have been? the only tea they drank grows here in the usa,herbal, and they didn’t pay taxes to england…..please god tell me you are a teenager or something because if that is your knowledge of a HUGELY important historical fact i cannot imagine what you think day to day reality is comprised of……..come on pandemic!!!! we so need the human herd thinned to near extinction numbers before the idiots kill us all.

  • Ron1127

    Traveling within California, I’ve never worried about it. Once I put my weed in a clear bag on top of my toiletries going thru the x-ray machine.
    Then again, I’m legal in my state. I thank all those who fought for less oppression.

  • Kenneth Aaron


    • Sherrie H.

      You deal with chronic non ending pain to the point that you wonder if it’s worth living but yet you have a family and grandchildren that you still have to keep going for. We are not scumbags bc we had rather take something natural for our chronic illness than a addictive little pill that you have to take round the clock to the point your body tells you the exact time it is. Pain kills it’s not normal to have chronic pain and fatigue all the Time.

      • Kenneth Aaron

        Not you Sherrie H. I am WITH YOU.

  • Alan479 Martin

    I see a light at the far end of a long dark tunnel

  • Martha Lentz

    Has anyone tried to transport a vape pen with less than a gram of concentrated oil? I’m wondering if I could get by with it with my Washington medical certification, or if it’s an item that would even prompt suspicion?

    • Melanie Stablein

      I have flown many times with a vape pen. I keep it in my carry on rather than checked luggage and have never been hassled.

    • New_Amerika

      yes from California to the east coast many many times, with zero problems whatsoever. I’ve also traveled with flowers that are double sealed in a FoodSaver bag and Packed discreetly. Prefer to ship my flowers ahead of me if I can.

    • Down in Cleveland

      Vape batteries must go carry on now, but as a traveller for work I can tell you grow some nads, carry on what is needed and no more. Its medicine for Christ sakes and you are not Pablo. Bigger airports seem less a problem than smaller ones.

      Multiple times this year I have found the TSA note in my checked bag saying I was searched!

      • Martha Lentz

        Thanks for the info, Screwed.. I don’t have “nads”… lol!

        • Down in Cleveland

          Good luck and maybe look into perking up the ones you do carry! 😉

    • RNinAK

      I’ve flown with a vape pen and attached 1g cartridge in my carry on several times, no problem.

    • Edgar Martinez

      Yes, I fly with my oil cartridge all the time and just carry them in my front pocket like its an E CIG. I put it right through the xray machine with my wallet and phone.

    • Stephen Arthur

      I frequently travel with a vape pen, as well as edibles. All of it goes in my carry-on. I have checked my pen and battery before, but the pressure change caused my cartridge to leak. Now, I carry it in its case, and nowhere on the case, battery or cartridge is there any indication it is cannabis. It looks just like any other vape pen. As for edibles, I only travel with snacks that are individually wrapped inside their dispensary packaging, with the individual wrapping showing no indication that they contain cannabis. I usually just take them out and put them in a ziplock or small plastic food container. Sometimes I mix them with other commercial candies. My edible faves are caramels, hard candy, and chocolates. They blend right in with the other candy.

      I think the takeaway from the article is that they really don’t want to waste their time busting you for cannabis. They are there for airline safety. If your product is obvious, such as a bulging bag of flowers, I think that’s asking for trouble. However, TSA is not about to sample your unlabeled edibles or your unlabeled pen to determine what’s inside.

  • Anthony Holt

    Archaic laws keep closed minded individuals in box as well as the drug manufacturers who have a nonsense belief that they will lose money. The question I always ask is does anybody realize how much damage and complicated side effects come with opioid pain meds. I have not had a nomal b m in several years. If it was not for laxatives I would be backed up to juvemember (June to November). Come on people read the studies look at the facts. Medication in the form of those lovely green pods is medication.

  • Eliao Jah

    It’s “medicine” so just travel with it, per TSA guidelines for prescribed medicine; which is in pill or liquid form and you are good. Leave the joints at home.

  • MG Deegan

    Flower bud can pull cornic is ok to smoke with medical marijuana patient is safer I believe I have say I have my favorite stuff to puff

  • Tim Bambam

    Maybe we should have been a little quieter about the TSA change. Now with no doubt a call from the Justice Department the TSA flip flopped on the change.
    All and all I have traveled all over the Umited States by plane. I carry my medicine in my checked bag. I kock in a purpose made Stashlogics bag nowadays. Prior to that I alway put everything in my shaving kit. Never been questioned. I think because the TSA’s job is more terror related as long as you are not blatant about carrying and you arent trying to move a quater pound you sbould be alright.

  • dogger1

    I’ve been through TSA many times with just the medicine I need to survive. Small amounts are easy because they actually look like medications to the observer. If you like flower, process it and put it in a container that is leak-proof and smaller that 3 oz. This is just a temporary fix, don’t get too fancy, because you are not trying to hide anything. You want to protect it. Put it with the res of your meds and toilet stuff and don’t worry. If you act like a drug smuggler by bringing a lot, then you will be treated as such. Otherwise, don’t worry mon if it’s legal on both ends.
    I wish there was a better way. Maybe when the govt. figures out how to collect, travel will open up.
    One thing is certain, a LOTTO, LOT O people go crazy over the smell of this fine herb. And that is you main concern SMELL.
    I’ve checked it in my luggage, put it in my backpack carry on and the ultimate stoner move.. In my pocket in one of the gram containers from the cannastore.
    The key was no smell and the small quantity didn’t attract attention.

  • Shoreline1

    Two words: Repubican Clerics

  • J Palmer

    Nancy rises from the grave as an old guy.

  • love.violet524

    It’s probably best to just take note of the nearest green cross dispensary to your destination and let the laws unscramble themselves in good time.

  • Nanci Cover

    What I don’t understand is why would anybody go to another state to get product?? Why not make your own liquid MJ? Traveling with it is easy, I do it all of the time. Get creative! Edibles are an excellent idea for travel. If you want to travel with the flower, take a woman with you if you know what I mean! The scanners can only see under your clothing and dogs cannot smell it if stashed properly.

  • Nanci Cover

    Logan5-excellent idea!!!

  • Stella

    I take a small amount in my bag. The majority is put in a pvc pipe, with screw-close caps and send it with my x-tra clothing and UPS it. UPS is the best and most reliable.

    • billdeserthills

      Actually if you were to mail your marijuana USPS first class, they would need to get a warrant before they could legally open your package. Neither UPS or Fed-Ex actually need to get a warrant before they open your packages…

  • Stagz

    I’m what they call a road warrior with a 75% business travel schedule for 20 years all over us, mex and Canada. My typical business trip is 3 days which has me passing thru TSA 6-8 times a month. Over this time I have brought some form of marijuana with me all but one time and that was simply because I forgot to pack it, no pun… my advice is a couple grams in a small glass jar and just put it in your computer bag, backpack, satchel, etc..
    I also travel with 1g vape cartridges all the time, keep the cartridge and battery together and put it in a pen slot in your bag.
    Since I live in PA I stock up when I’m in rec states and have flown with 2 oz of flower and 2-3 vape cartridges in plain old dispensary packaging which I stuff in my sneakers and put in my carry on bag on many occasions.
    TSA is not looking for marijuana!!!
    To each their own but personally I roll the marijuana dice in order to be Xanex / Zoloft free. I’ve been on the both with No success treating my anxiety, marijuana works for me!! As the saying goes ” if I’m wrong I don’t want to be right.”

  • Randall Flagg

    law enforcement is local at the airport – so they’ll follow that state’s laws – which means “have a nice flight, sir”

  • Yakitarian

    Fake News.