Airports buzzing about carry-on legal weed

12:31 PM, Jan 31, 2014   |    comments
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A woman enters Denver International Airport on Monday, passing a notice prohibiting marijuana possession at the airport. Carrying marijuana through airport security in Colorado may get the pot confiscated, but there appears to be little danger of legal repercussions. / Brennan Linsley/AP

 


 


DENVER - Among the many oddities that have arisen from marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado is this: It can be easier to get through airport security with a bag of weed than a bottle of water.

At Washington's airports, including Seattle-Tacoma International, there's nothing police can do to prevent travelers from flying with pot in their carry-on or checked luggage, provided it doesn't exceed the state legal limit of one ounce. Instead, airport officials say, officers simply recommend travelers leave it in their cars, toss it or have a friend pick it up.

But in Colorado, where the legal pot law gives property owners more authority to restrict the drug, some airports have banned marijuana possession and enacted penalties, including fines as high as $2,500 and a jail stint at the airport in Colorado Springs.

SEE ALSO: Pot amnesty boxes going up at Colo. airport

"Carrying marijuana in a civilian aircraft is illegal under federal regulations. That's why we implemented the rule, to prevent marijuana from reaching a civilian aircraft," said airport spokeswoman Kim Melchor, adding that the airport has yet to levy a fine and that a drop-box where travelers can toss leftover weed hasn't been used.

The situation underscores the difficulty officials in both states have as they try to prevent pot from leaving their borders - one of several conditions the Department of Justice imposed when it allowed the legal pot experiments to proceed.

Voters in the two states approved legalizing marijuana for adults over 21 in 2012, but the laws don't allow people to take pot out of state. Federal law prohibits marijuana possession, on a plane or anywhere else. Anyone who touched down in the other 48 states where marijuana is illegal would also be violating state law.

The Transportation Security Administration makes travelers empty their water bottles, but when agents encounter personal amounts of marijuana at security checkpoints, they typically don't call the Drug Enforcement Administration or FBI. Federal prosecutors don't waste time on such small potatoes. An agency spokesman said the TSA's focus is on terrorism and threats to the aircraft and passengers.

TSA agents normally hand over pot cases to local law enforcement officers, who have little recourse in Colorado and Washington. At Sea-Tac, they rely on a "totality of the circumstances" test to decide whether to make an arrest or investigate further, Port of Seattle spokesman Perry Cooper said: Is the passenger combative, or carrying vast amounts of cash?

Detention might be warranted for some of those things, but not for the pot itself, he noted.

Airports say there have been few incidents where passengers have been stopped carrying marijuana. Pot has been banned at Denver International, with fines of up to $999. No one's been fined yet.

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