Pot is legal in Illinois, but don't pack it for your next airplane ride

  • Chicago police encourage fliers with weed to deposit it in marijuana amnesty boxes located at security checkpoints in Midway and O'Hare international airports.

    Chicago police encourage fliers with weed to deposit it in marijuana amnesty boxes located at security checkpoints in Midway and O'Hare international airports. Courtesy of the Chicago Police Department

  • A passenger at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 3 undergoes screening Thursday. Although marijuana is legal in Illinois, cannabis is prohibited under federal law and, if detected, it could result in missing your flight or facing a federal charge.

      A passenger at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 3 undergoes screening Thursday. Although marijuana is legal in Illinois, cannabis is prohibited under federal law and, if detected, it could result in missing your flight or facing a federal charge. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Passengers at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 3 prepare for screening Thursday. Although marijuana is legal in Illinois, cannabis remains illegal under federal law.

      Passengers at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 3 prepare for screening Thursday. Although marijuana is legal in Illinois, cannabis remains illegal under federal law. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Passengers at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 3 prepare for screening Thursday. Although marijuana is legal in Illinois, cannabis is prohibited under U.S. law and, if detected during screening, it could result in missing your flight or potentially facing a federal charge.

      Passengers at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 3 prepare for screening Thursday. Although marijuana is legal in Illinois, cannabis is prohibited under U.S. law and, if detected during screening, it could result in missing your flight or potentially facing a federal charge. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted1/13/2020 5:30 AM

Now that recreational marijuana is legal in Illinois, residents can enjoy the previously forbidden fruit from Cook to Massac counties.

But drive into Kenosha County, Wisconsin, with your legally purchased weed and you'll be breaking federal and state laws.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As for flying with cannabis products? Don't do it, experts advise, unless you enjoy delays at U.S. Transportation Security Administration checkpoints that could mean missing a flight.

"There is a misconception that if you can buy the stuff legally -- you can take it wherever you go," DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman said. "That will create some unpleasant surprises, particularly at our airports."

The year 2020 brings a mishmash of federal, state and local laws regarding cannabis that could make marijuana consumers want to tuck a lawyer into their carry-ons.

"It's tricky and we need to see how it plays out," said attorney Kelvin McCabe, a National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Illinois board member.

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Here are a few things to know about traveling with recreational marijuana:

• The new law effective Jan. 1 prohibits transporting cannabis or cannabis products outside the state of Illinois.

• It is illegal under federal law to cross the border or arrive at a U.S. port of entry with marijuana in your possession.

• Federally, "marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance," meaning it's illegal, a U.S. Department of Justice official said.

But what about domestic flights to another marijuana-friendly state like California or flying intrastate?

That's a bad plan, experts said, stressing Illinois law bans taking marijuana outside the Prairie State, and that everyone flying on a commercial flight must be checked by federal TSA officers.

TSA screenings are focused on security and detecting potential threats to aircraft and passengers, spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said. "Accordingly, our security officers don't search for marijuana."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But possession is illegal under federal law and if TSA workers find your weed, "our officers will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer, who then follow their own procedures," Koshetz noted.

The Chicago Police Department is encouraging travelers not to bring cannabis or cannabis products through Midway or O'Hare international airports, "as it still remains illegal federally," Public Relations Coordinator Maggie Huynh said.

Police recommend fliers with marijuana jettison it in cannabis amnesty boxes, located inside the secure area at the end of every TSA checkpoint.

Huynh did note that "our officers are only contacted by TSA when it appears to be a significant amount of cannabis over the legal limit."

That could mean "the biggest risk is not the arrest, but missing your flight," said McCabe, assistant public defender in Rock Island County.

Although possession by someone 21 or older is not a crime, and Chicago police can't make arrests for federal offenses, McCabe advises users not to be guinea pigs during the transition period.

In California, where marijuana has been legal since 2018, Los Angeles Airport Police contacted by TSA officers typically won't arrest passengers with weed unless it exceeds the limit, an official said. However, airport police have detained fliers at the request of the TSA until federal agents arrive.

Other significant players to be aware of are carriers such as United and American Airlines that forbid marijuana on board.

"Federally, with some few exceptions, marijuana is still illegal," United spokesman Charles Hobart said. "We follow federal law and do not permit carriage or consumption on our aircraft."

If you find the rules confusing, DePaul's Schwieterman empathizes. "Our state deserves a poor grade for its public education efforts surrounding legalization. There has been plenty of hype, but few efforts to explain the legal boundaries.

"Let's just hope people don't try to fly with the product to countries where there is zero tolerance. Saying 'it was an accident,' won't cut it."

Got questions or comments? Send emails to mpyke@dailyherald.com.

You should know

Curious about what happens to the marijuana folks dump in the amnesty bins?

"The boxes are regularly checked," Huynh said, though Chicago police could not specify how often and when. "Any time the box is cleared and there are items in the box, officers will create a report, inventory the cannabis or cannabis products and then they will be disposed of similar to how narcotics are disposed of."

Vroom vroom

Interested in winning free tickets to the Chicago Auto Show running Feb. 8 to 17? Send an email to mpyke@dailyherald.com. explaining what cars you want to see and why. The deadline is Jan. 31.

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