Guide to Traveling with Medical Marijuana

Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi - Content Writer

Dec 13 2021 - 5 min read

Crossing state lines with medical marijuana can be tricky. While medical marijuana is now legal in many states, the plant remains illegal at the federal level. This lack of federal regulation can spell trouble when you travel, especially through high-security airports. 

Here we provide your comprehensive guide for traveling with medical cannabis, explaining the unique rules for different forms of transportation. Read on to protect your rights to legally use your cannabis medicine while visiting family and friends this holiday season and all year round. However, please note that no information in this blog should be considered legal advice. If you have a specific question about traveling with marijuana, we recommend you consult a lawyer.

Can You Travel with Medical Marijuana in the United States?

Traveling within the United States with medical marijuana is legal if a reciprocity program exists. States with medical marijuana card reciprocity recognize and adhere to each other’s laws, so your MMJ card will be valid in a reciprocal state. However, the list of states with reciprocity is small and the majority of states, including Florida and New York, do not recognize out-of-state medical cards. 

If you’re going to a state with medical marijuana reciprocity, check to see if you have to sign up to your destination state’s medical marijuana program in order to use medical cannabis legally. In Arkansas, for example, visitors are required to sign up for the medical marijuana program thirty days in advance and pay a $50 nonrefundable fee.

Possession limits may also differ for visitors compared to residents of the state. In Oregon, a state resident with a medical marijuana card can possess up to 24 ounces. Visitors from other states can possess only one ounce, even with a valid MMJ card.

Planes

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has issued more stringent security requirements since the turn of the century and the September 11th tragedy. But heavy restrictions on cannabis date back to President Richard Nixon’s administration and the beginning of the War on Drugs. In a nutshell: flying with cannabis is illegal. 

At the same time, TSA agents do not actively search for medical marijuana or other drugs in your baggage. However, if the TSA finds anything resembling a federally illegal substance in your bags, they are required to report the finding to local law enforcement.  

But the TSA is not the only organization you have to answer to when you fly. Some major airlines like American Airlines have banned all marijuana (including medical use) from flights. In accordance with such regulations, you are not permitted to travel with even one gram of medically prescribed cannabis.

The bottom line is that flying with medical marijuana poses numerous legal risks. Leave your MMJ at home the next time you fly, or find an alternate form of transportation. 

Cars

Traveling in your own personal vehicle with medical marijuana is the safest way to go. But if you’re renting a car or driving someone else’s vehicle, there may be some gray area, especially if you are traveling through states with unfavorable medical marijuana laws. Furthermore, do not use marijuana while operating a vehicle and obey all traffic laws to reduce the likelihood of the police pulling you over. 

Trains and Buses

If using public transport, recognize that trains and busses have their own rules and regulations. Greyhound and Amtrak, for example, do not allow for the consumption or transport of cannabis on their vehicles, even in legal states. 

Subways and Commuter Trains

You definitely cannot smoke weed on subways and commuter trains. The U.S.’s largest transportation hub, the MTA in New York, banned all smoking back in 1988. As for traveling with your medical marijuana, subways and commuter trains will have their own rules and regulations to which you must adhere. 

Boats and Ferries

The United States Coast Guard wants you to leave your weed at home. When you travel through waterways, you may be unaware that you have left one jurisdiction and entered another. If the place you’re sailing through has outlawed marijuana, then you are subject to those laws.  

Traveling Internationally with Medical Marijuana

Many countries continue to crack down on drug offenders, which may include medical marijuana users depending on where you go. Bali, Indonesia, has one of the harshest penal systems in the world for people caught with marijuana. Making no distinction between medical marijuana and recreational cannabis, the government of Bali sentences people caught with weed to a minimum of four years in prison.

Other Asian nations, including China, impose similar harsh penalties on people who bring marijuana across their borders. Even in countries where medical marijuana is legal, like the Netherlands, there is a fine line between medical and recreational use with the latter decriminalized but not legal. If you’re traveling in Holland with more than five grams of cannabis and you lose your MMJ card, you may be subject to penalties. 

The best advice for someone who wants to travel internationally with medical marijuana? Don’t do it. 

How to Store Medical Marijuana While Traveling

Storing medical marijuana while you travel is simple: keep it in the original packaging. Traveling with any unlabeled prescription bottle can lead to legal trouble. Discreetly store your medical marijuana in a zippered compartment in your luggage alongside your MMJ card and any corresponding paperwork. 

What to Do If You’re Detained but Have a Medical Marijuana Card

First, know that you have legal rights and try not to panic. Be respectful and present your medical marijuana card and any accompanying documents. If the issue persists, get in touch with an attorney. 

Checklist for Traveling with Medical Marijuana

The safest way to travel with medical marijuana is to ideally not travel with it in the first instance! However, if you must travel with medical cannabis, here are some important points to keep in mind:

    • First, be sure that your MMJ card has not expired or is near expiring (within thirty days)
    • Take your doctor’s certificate or recommendation letter with you
    • Keep your medical marijuana ID card with you at all times
    • Make a copy of your medical marijuana card and store it in a travel safe
    • Leave another copy of your medical marijuana card with a trusted loved one at home
    • Keep your medical marijuana (and all prescription medications) in the original packaging.
    • Have your physician’s phone number and other contact info handy
    • Keep a lawyer on speed dial – just in case

The Bottom Line on Traveling with Medical Marijuana

Traveling with medical marijuana is complicated. Keep yourself informed of the most up-to-date state and federal laws to ensure that transporting medical marijuana to your destination is legal. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I get arrested if I bring medical marijuana to the airport?

Do not fly with cannabis as it is illegal to do so. However, hemp-derived CBD products containing no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are permitted on flights.

What is the best way to travel with medical marijuana?

The best way to travel with medical marijuana? Legally! Follow the law wherever you go. Most importantly, make absolutely sure you have your medical cannabis card with you at all times. Possessing cannabis without a card could land you in deep trouble, especially if you’ve left your home state.

medical cannabis card

Can I pack medical marijuana in checked luggage?

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, so it is not advisable to pack any MMJ in your luggage. TSA agents do not directly search for drugs, but they will hold you accountable if they find anything suspicious or illegal in your bags. 

Experience the benefits of medical marijuana safely and legally in your home state by applying for your MMJ card with Leafwell. Our doctors are here to guide you each step of the way and consult with you online. 

Written by
Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi

Tina Magrabi is a writer and editor specializing in holistic health. She has written hundreds of articles for Weedmaps where she spearheaded the Ailments series on cannabis medicine. In addition, she has written extensively for the women's health blog, SafeBirthProject, as well as print publications including Destinations Magazine and Vero's Voice. Tina is a Yale University alumna and certified yoga instructor with a passion for the outdoors.

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