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US Journalist Detained in Germany for Cannabis Following Barcelona Assignment

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US Journalist Detained in Germany for Cannabis Following Barcelona Assignment

Following her recent detainment in Germany, Shirley Ju recommends always being aware of the laws of the country you are in.

Sitting on this airplane, not high, I am still distraught over what transpired this morning. Let me first start with the reflection that I take full responsibility for my actions and I’m in no way dismissing the fact that everyone needs to abide by the law of the country they are in. I am, however, trying to make sense of my experience of being detained for cannabis, as most of my professional work lies within the cannabis industry.

As a freelance journalist and on-camera host based in Los Angeles, I had the golden opportunity to host the International Cannabis Awards in Barcelona, Spain, just a few days ago before attending Spannabis, Europe’s most prominent cannabis event. The ICAs were deemed the “Oscars of the cannabis industry,” and I was definitely not taking the opportunity to host such a prestigious award ceremony overseas for granted. 

Cannabis brought me to Spain, and I’ll forever be grateful. Beyond falling in love with the city in itself, Spannabis was something I’d never imagined to be taking place overseas—especially in a place where weed is not yet fully legal. A good handful of social clubs (what they call weed consumption lounges in Europe) got raided just this week.

Thanks to the good people at Royal Queen Seeds, I attended Day 1 of Spannabis on Friday, March 15. Working with such a well-respected brand has been a joy as one of their ambassadors. They had the biggest booth at the expo, although I’d label Spannabis more of a weed festival. Guests can buy a ticket for 25 Euros and attend, whereas trade shows in the US are much more expensive and sometimes only limited to vendors.

Shirley Ju making friends at Spannabis.

My flight back to the States was scheduled for 9:50 am on Saturday. I was supposed to fly back on the Air France airline, with a Paris layover. I typically am late to flights, so I scheduled a cab to pick me up from Axel Hotel at 6:50 am. Who knew that arriving 2.5 hours early would result in the nightmare that would ensue? 

Upon arriving at the Air France counter, I learned my scheduled flight was overbooked by about seven to eight people. Without my consent, the counter’s airline representative informed me I was being switched to a 7:55 am flight via Lufthansa, which would now stop in Munich, Germany, instead of Paris.

So now, I’m on a two-hour flight from Barcelona to Germany. There was an hour’s transfer window to my next gate upon arrival, with my luggage taken care of in the backend. Side note: this might be a good time to note that I typically travel internationally with weed in my checked-in luggage. I’ve been everywhere, from Dubai to European countries to the Philippines. I’m not encouraging this behavior in any way, but I have never thought twice about bringing the plant with me.

I suffer from ADD/ADHD, so I tend to lag when it comes to boarding the flight. I like to be one of the last ones to board—and for this very reason, sitting down for long periods is my hell. As I approached the gate, I was suddenly stopped by two men who showed me their police badges.

They confirmed my name and told me they’d been waiting 30 minutes for me. Not knowing what I was being stopped for, one of them eventually pulled out all the weed from my checked-in luggage. It was all detained inside a see-through bag and held together by rubber bands. This honestly seemed unnecessary, as he essentially made it a point to throw it in my face that he had caught me red-handed. 

They then asked if I had any “marijuana” on me, to which I admitted yes and handed over the pre-rolls in the backpack. That wasn’t enough. They proceeded to search through every inch of my backpack (literally every inch) and confiscated the edibles I had brought for my trip from the US to Barcelona to help me sleep on the long flight. I honestly forgot they were still there in the front pocket. 

Now, they became upset and made me turn my pockets inside out to ensure I didn’t have anything on me. They didn’t even have the courtesy to return my belongings where they found them, not to mention the main agent commented: “You were coming from the expo, huh?” I’m not quite sure if he used the word cannabis or not, but he was definitely addressing Spannabis. The comment seemed contradictory in that he knew this was for work purposes, yet I was still being treated like I did something incredibly wrong. I was instructed to take my belongings and follow them to their office so they could process this as a criminal record. Great.

After doing my research, I learned that as of today, The Cannabis Act legalizes the use of cannabis for German residents aged 18 and above, with possession of up to 25 grams allowed in public and up to 50 grams in private or at home. To drive the point even further, cannabis in Germany will be legalized for adult-use starting April 1 of this year. What are the chances? 

Merely two weeks away and here I was at the airport, carrying weed that’s completely legal in California. Would things have been different come April 1? I’m trying to process this in my head.

I couldn’t find any concrete information on whether flying with weed is illegal, but I was informed that you can’t have any amount at all in your possession. And if I had over a kilo, I would have been arrested. 

When the reality settled in that I wouldn’t be flying home to Los Angeles as planned, I started to panic. I suffer from anxiety and depression and particularly do not do well in situations that require a lot of patience. I asked him if I could get on the next flight out, but he dismissed my question. 

They then walked me out of the office to the car and drove me to their office at the other end of the airport. He read me my rights and asked if I wanted to contact a lawyer (I don’t have one). There was a prolonged period of filling out paperwork, which included documenting every single item that was confiscated—including a CBD vape with less than 0.3% THC in it. Any amount of THC is flagged, assuming the letters THC on any label deems the product as illegal.

The principal officer saw my prescription bottles of Seroquel, which I use for my depression and anxiety and immediately confiscated them. I told him it was my medication, but per his reaction, it didn’t seem he believed it. He then did some Google searches on his phone before handing me back the bottles.

My weed use has always been medicinal over recreational and now, working in the industry, it baffles me that something completely legal where I live could result in these types of consequences. After signing at least a dozen papers, they informed me it would be a fine of 500 Euros. Roughly $550. This came after he asked me about my income and how much I made in a month. Are the two correlated? He also asked if I had any cash on me before the interrogation. I’m not sure why. 

Shirley Ju Detained for Cannabis
The paperwork Ju received after being detained for cannabis in Munich.

They walked me to the cashier to pay and then dropped me off at the Lufthansa service counter, where I had to take a number like the DMV. There were hordes of people waiting around, mainly because their flights were canceled. I soon realized I was stranded in Munich, as this entire time, I was checking for outgoing flights on my iPhone. The only ones left were 24-hour options with multiple layovers in different cities. Plus, I’d have to pay for the rebooking.

The tears came and I felt defeated. By the grace of God, I took the initiative to walk up directly to one of the ladies at the service center to help me. I had about 30 people ahead of me in the queue, but I was so distraught and begged to speak with a manager.

Miraculously, I was told the original noon flight out of Munich was delayed. They had everyone deplane and pushed the flight back until 3 pm. It was now 2:20 pm and I had roughly 15 minutes to get through security and passport control to run to catch this flight. Mind you, they had to locate my luggage after it had been confiscated.

I’ve been preaching how grateful and humbled I am to be able to travel to Spain for work because of the plant. I’d never anticipated the plant would cause so much distress. I was baffled and couldn’t find the positive in the situation, other than the fact that the original flight was now delayed and I had hope of getting back home during the evening as planned.

As I write this on the plane, I’m still riled up at the disconnects. Cannabis is legal where I’m from. Cannabis is about to be legal in Germany in a matter of 14 days. I’d asked the police officer how often this happens, to which he responded, “Every day.” Every day, they catch people flying with weed and slapping them with this large fine. Luckily, I had my credit card on me and had enough funds to be released.

I’m sure rocking a vibrant purple Cookies hoodie didn’t help my case, but I did explain to him my professional work in the field. It didn’t matter and that, to me, is truly unfair.

Taking my emotions out of the equation, this was a lesson learned to never travel with weed again. I hope this helps anyone reading also to take the same precautions, as it was very apparent law enforcement shows no grace when it comes to anything “marijuana” related.

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