Here's What Actually Happens If TSA Finds Weed In Your Luggage

If you're planning the perfect summer getaway in the United States and you use marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, you may be wondering what happens if you choose to bring your favorite THC products with you on the airplane. The rules and regulations surrounding cannabis in the United States are somewhat confusing.

As of 2023, marijuana is legal for medicinal use in 38 out of the 50 states (per the National Conference of State Legislatures). Furthermore, 24 states allow for recreational cannabis use, and some even encourage cannabis tourism. In most states where it is legal, only adults over the age of 21 are permitted to partake. In some states, particularly Idaho, cannabis is still very illegal, and anyone caught can face jail time.

While certain states have legalized weed, it remains illegal under federal law and is considered a controlled substance (though it is being reclassified to a less strict classification, per AP). The disconnect between state and national law has led to a confusing clash, so if you're fearful of bringing pot on a plane, you're not alone.

The official answer from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website is that weed is (mostly) illegal, so you can't bring it through TSA, even if you're traveling between two states that have legalized it for recreational use. That being said, TSA agents are not going out of their way to bust people for weed — they're more focused on safety concerns, like stopping national security threats, than ruining someone's vacation over a joint.

TSA's weed protocol

TSA is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security whose mission is to "protect the nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce." TSA security officials are not law enforcement. It's their job to inspect travelers and their baggage for safety concerns, but they must report any potential violations of state or federal laws to local authorities.

Since weed is federally illegal, TSA will likely report you to local law enforcement if it is found in your luggage. That being said, your ganja is not what they're looking for. In regards to marijuana, the TSA website states that "TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs." Furthermore, the TSA dogs that you may see sniffing passengers as they pass through security are usually trained to detect explosives, not drugs.

CBD is another property found in the hemp plant. It's become popular for its medicinal benefits, which include anxiety relief and reductions in chronic pain (per MedicalNewsToday). CBD products do not contain much THC, so they won't impair your motor skills or get you high like THC. According to the TSA website, if a product contains under 0.3% THC or is approved by the FDA, it is not federally illegal, so you shouldn't have issues if you want to fly with CBD products (unless it is unlawful on a state level). 

What happens if you get busted with weed in an airport?

If TSA agents notice a substance resembling marijuana in your luggage or on your person during the airport security screening, agents will notify local law enforcement. If you live in a state where recreational weed is legal, law enforcement might not even respond. TSA agents aren't allowed to arrest you, but they can confiscate the marijuana. "The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint," according to the TSA website.

Some officers may let you return the marijuana to your car, and others may simply ask you to throw it away. As long as you're compliant, you may be allowed to pass through TSA and continue with your trip. Do not argue or give TSA any attitude. Disobeying a TSA agent is a federal crime, and repercussions are much more intense than a pot violation. Keep calm, comply with their requests, and don't resort to threats or violence. You can file a complaint later if you feel that you were unfairly treated.

Undoubtedly, the legal option (and the safest) is to leave your weed at home. If you do decide to risk it, don't think you're home free just because TSA failed to notice your marijuana. FAA regulations prohibit airlines from boarding any passenger who appears to be intoxicated, so if you go too heavy on the edibles, you might not make it onto your flight.