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The Legal Ramifications of Washington Marijuana Tourism

Posted by Coleen D. St. Clair | Apr 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

Since the first marijuana dispensaries opened in Seattle in July, the state of Washington has become one of the few places in the world where one can legally walk into a store and buy marijuana. Many from around the country and the world want to share in this experience, and they are willing to travel to Seattle and other cities around the state just for the experience. This new inflow of “marijuana tourism” may be an economic boon for the state and Seattle, but it also raises some interesting legal problems for state and federal officials.

One issue is the legal ramifications when out-of-staters wish to take a bit of the Washington cash crop home with them. As readers are probably aware, marijuana, while legal in small quantities in Washington, is illegal under federal law and the vast majority of other states. Still, under enforcement procedures, there is not much that state law enforcement or federal TSA officials--the federal agents who perform security checks on airport passengers--are able or willing to do about it.

In Colorado, where officials have more experience dealing with this issue and broader legal framework to restrict marijuana possession, they have implemented several policies to prevent people from bring marijuana on planes with them. In the Colorado Springs and Aspen airports, officials have installed “amnesty boxes” where travelers who forgot they had marijuana on them or are having second thoughts about flying home with the drug, may dispense with the product. At Denver International Airport (DIA) officials have banned marijuana under a state law that allows property owners to forbid marijuana possession on their premises. Possessing marijuana at DIA, however, is likely not a criminal offense, only an administrative charge under airport rules, and no one has been fined yet, nor has anyone yet to voluntarily use the amnesty boxes.

Washington police officers have even less recourse against passengers who attempt to smuggle small amounts of marijuana onto their departing flights. As long as the quantity of marijuana is under the legal limit, officers can only recommend the traveler leave the marijuana at home or with a friend when they head to the airport.

Under TSA regulations, if a TSA agent finds marijuana in your baggage he or she may refer you to local law enforcement, which makes the consequences for such a discovery are limited.

TSA's priority is preventing acts of terrorism at the nation's airports and maintaining passenger safety. Imposing a double duty as drug enforcement agent would detract from agents' abilities to perform this primary duty.

Still, travelers should keep in mind that they are performing an illegal act when they bring marijuana onto an airplane with them, even in Washington. The risks of legal action against you probably is not worth the benefit of smuggling a small amount of weed with you when you fly out of the Emerald City

About the Author

Coleen D. St. Clair

Ms. St. Clair is a former senior prosecuting attorney with over 25 years experience handling criminal cases. She has successfully handled tens of thousands of criminal and DUI cases with remarkable results.


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