There has been a significant uptick in the number of people caught trying to smuggle cannabis on flights in California. The folks at Los Angeles International Airport alone claim they have experienced a 166% increase in interstate cannabis trafficking since the state legalized marijuana for recreational use back in 2016.
It seems a lot more high flyers are just relaxed about trying to get weed through all of the post-9-11 safety channels that airports have in place now before allowing passengers to board a commercial flight.
And why not?
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency with the Department of Homeland Security, has said for years that it does not actively search for marijuana or any other illegal drug for that matter.
If that is the case, then why are so many people apparently getting busted in airports these days for weed?
Well, it doesn’t appear to be exclusively the less-than-sneaky cannabis user getting popped for trying to bring small amounts of the herb aboard a plane through their carry on. LAX actually has a policy allowing for pot possession, but drug traffickers are reportedly stuffing bags full of that green (sometimes in 50 lb. quantities) in an attempt to move it to the black market in areas of prohibition. This is where they can continue capitalizing on the product as they did in the old days. It’s the only way some domestic cartel operations can stay alive post legalization
“Since pot’s been legalized in California, there’s no money to be made because everyone got involved in it,” criminal defense lawyer Bill Kroger Jr. said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The money is outside of California.”
The majority of the blame for this rise in cannabis smuggling via the airports is put on the vibrant underground still operating in the shadows of California’s legal weed scene. As it stands, the Golden State is the leading producer of marijuana in the country. Reports show the state manufactured 13.5 million pounds of it in 2016, which is around five times more than what the local users burned up.
What isn’t snatched up by the California cannabis consumer has a tendency to move East for distribution on the illicit market. This method of running illegal drug-slinging operations on the backs of legal marijuana is happening in other legal states, as well. Colorado has experienced its fair share of the same problem. “[Post legalization] we have seen an increase in the black market because the marijuana… is being shipped out of state,” said Lieutenant Andrew Howard with the Denver Police Department.
This is not meant to suggest that every pot bust being made out of LAX is the result of drug trafficking. That’s not the situation at all. In fact, out of the more than 500 incidents where travelers were caught with weed in their luggage, only around 100 were treated as drug trafficking cases.
Most are just travelers who have either forgotten that they have a stash on them, or those throwing caution to the wind in hopes of taking a few buds to a state where weed is not yet legal. These are the people who have read all of those articles on the Internet about how TSA doesn’t really give a darn about weed and how there are no repercussions in states where weed is legal.
This is true at the most basic level.
It was just last week that TSA officials posted to Instagram a message intended to clarify its position on marijuana.
“Are we cool? We like to think we’re cool,” the agency said. “We want you to have a pleasant experience at the airport and arrive safely at your destination. But getting caught while trying to fly with marijuana or cannabis-infused products can really harsh your mellow.”
“Let us be blunt,” the post continued. “TSA officers DO NOT search for marijuana or other illegal drugs. Our screening procedures are focused on security and detecting potential threats. But in the event a substance appears to be marijuana or a cannabis-infused product, we’re required by federal law to notify law enforcement. This includes items that are used for medicinal purposes.”
This means that since marijuana is still considered an illegal substance in the eyes of the federal government, TSA will involve the police if they find weed in your bag. In California, that’s not a big deal. In Indiana, however, even small amounts of the herb are going to get a person jammed up tight in the criminal justice system.
In the case of LAX, as long as travelers have no more than the permitted 28.5 grams (right around an ounce), they are allowed to bring it through security. TSA doesn’t agree with this policy, so they will still call in the cops to assess the situation if marijuana is discovered. Worst case scenario, as long as the legal personal limit is adhered to, the traveler may have to give up their weed before boarding the plane.
However, if you plan to smuggle a few pounds of weed in a suitcase for whatever reason, it is highly likely that you’ll end up in handcuffs if you get caught. Possession of more than 28.5 grams is a misdemeanor in California (so is intent to distribute) and it carries a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail and fines reaching $500.
Wait, that’s it? Yes, that’s the worst that can happen to a marijuana smuggler in California. It’s likely the reason that airports are seeing an increase in trafficking cases. The punishment just isn’t severe enough to discourage cartels from sending mules with pounds of weed through the friendly skies. These people receive hazard pay to assume such a small risk. The penalties are hasher in other legal states.
In Colorado, for example, a similar possession offense (12 ounces or more) can earn a marijuana smuggler a felony charge with a punishment of up to two years in prison and fines around $100,000. Intent to distribute eight ounces or more can also lead to sentence enhancements.
TELL US, have you ever taken cannabis on a flight?