Now that many states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana possession, can you take your "legal" weed from one state to the next?
The short answer is no. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and transporting it anywhere could result in federal criminal charges. Even if the feds turn a blind eye, transporting marijuana across state lines between "legal" states is risky. State laws vary considerably and what might be considered "legal" weed in one state could easily be illegal in the next.
Read on to learn more about state and federal laws regarding the possession and transportation of recreational and medical cannabis.
Despite state action legalizing or decriminalizing certain uses of small amounts of marijuana, federal law hasn't done so. Federal law places marijuana on the drug schedule as a Schedule I drug, meaning it's considered to have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. Marijuana sits on the schedule beside drugs such as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. (21 U.S.C. § 812 (2022).)
Simple possession of marijuana carries up to a year in federal prison for a first offense. For a second offense (state or federal), a defendant faces a minimum of 15 days' incarceration and up to two years in prison. A third offense bumps the minimum to 90 days and the maximum to three years. (21 U.S.C. § 844 (2022).)
Federal law trumps state law when it comes to drugs. So even in states that have legalized or decriminalized recreational or medicinal use—traveling or not—it's still technically a federal crime to possess marijuana. The level of enforcement of these laws, however, tends to vary based on who's in charge in the Oval Office. But even if the federal government doesn't prioritize prosecuting low-level marijuana violations, that doesn't mean a federal agent won't turn over the case to local authorities for prosecution in a state where possession remains illegal.
Certain areas within a state are considered federal land or property. If you're caught with marijuana on federal property, federal enforcement might not be as lenient. Any time you travel to a national park, monument, or forest, you're on federal property. The federal government also controls certain conservation areas through the Bureau of Land Management. You're even subject to federal jurisdiction in a federal library or museum.
The federal government also regulates air travel and airports, so flying with marijuana is technically illegal. TSA officers are federal agents. While their duties don't include drug enforcement, they can turn over any illegal drugs (such as marijuana) to the local authorities or to another federal agency.
Even if marijuana wasn't prohibited under federal law, state laws on marijuana vary considerably—even from one "legal" state to the next—making traveling with marijuana legally risky. When traveling from one legal state to another, you'll need to know where marijuana can be consumed, how much you can have in your possession, and whether other restrictions exist.
States generally fall under four categories for marijuana possession:
For simplicity, this article will refer to states where certain adult recreational or medicinal use is legal as "legal states" and other states as "illegal states."
If you're traveling from a state where marijuana possession is legal to a state where it's not, the answer is simple. Traveling across state lines violates federal law, as well as the state's law that you're entering. The designation of "legal weed" does not carry over from one state to the next. As soon as you enter the illegal state, you're under that state's jurisdiction and its criminal code. A possession violation typically means an infraction or misdemeanor penalty, which can be fines or jail time (the maximum jail time could be anywhere from 30 days to one year).
Even traveling from one legal state to another can be tricky. Besides violating federal law, every state's legal recreational and medicinal marijuana laws are different.
The biggest difference involves the amount of marijuana that can be legally possessed and in what product form. Your state might allow a greater amount than the neighboring state. For instance, if you're traveling from Colorado to Arizona, Colorado permits up to two ounces for personal use but Arizona's legalized amount is one ounce. (Ariz. Rev. Stat § 36-2852; Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-18-406 (2022).) A state might also specify different allowable amounts for concentrated forms or infused edible products. Having possession of marijuana over the legal amount may result in an infraction or misdemeanor violation that includes fines or jail time.
State laws also change frequently, so you'll need to be up to date on the most recent version of the law. If a state recently legalized recreational marijuana, those laws often take time to go into effect. Depending on the specifics of the law, legalization or decriminalization might not occur for several months or longer.
Traveling with medical marijuana also comes with risks. Again, federal law prohibits all marijuana, which includes medicinal marijuana. Several states continue to prohibit medical marijuana.
On top of straight prohibitions, traveling from one medicinal-use state to the next can land a person in hot water. Not all medicinal-use states provide reciprocity to other states' classifications of qualified patients. In fact, many don't. And just like recreational marijuana, you can't travel to a medical-use state without knowing the legal possession limits and permissible products. The possession limits for medical marijuana vary even more than recreational limits. In California, a qualified patient may possess up to eight ounces of dried cannabis. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 11362.77 (2022).) Washington's law, on the other hand, has specified limits of 48 ounces of infused solid products, three ounces of usable cannabis, 216 ounces of infused liquid products, and 21 grams of concentrates. (Wash. Rev. Code § 69.51A.210 (2022).)
Another consideration, should you choose to travel by car, involves storage requirements. Similar to alcohol, state open container laws prohibit consuming marijuana in a moving vehicle and having loose cannabis or open containers in areas accessible to passengers or drivers. A violation will typically land you an infraction or misdemeanor-level penalty.
Driving under the influence of marijuana (in any state, legal or not) is always a crime. A DUI can result in misdemeanor or felony penalties depending on a person's priors or the circumstances of the offense.
In short, it is not worth the risk of arrest and conviction to bring marijuana from one state into another. If you want to explore the subject further, talk to a criminal defense lawyer with experience in handling cases under the drug laws of the state you plan to visit.