Beginning in mid-October, Canadians will be authorized to fly with up to 30 grams of weed as long as they are traveling domestically.

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Delphine Denis, one of Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s spokespersons, made the announcement to the Agence France-Presse on October 4.

“After October 17, 2018, passengers will be permitted to have a legal amount of cannabis, which is 30 grams, in either their carry-on or checked bag, if they are flying to a domestic destination,” she said. 

If you’re confused as to why someone would want to do that in a country where weed is ostensibly legal nation-wide, remember that Canada is comprised of ten provinces and three territories, each of these governing bodies authorized with autonomy similar to what we see in the United States.

Vancouver, Canada - January 3, 2014: Air Canada airplane takes off in Vancouver International Airport at January 3, 2014. Air Canada is the largest airline company in Canada. iStock / vkyryl

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That means that cannabis won’t necessarily be as accessible in some cities as it will be in others. Having the ability to travel with your own stash takes a lot of uncertainty out of the equation.  With that said, there is also the advantage of saving money. If you’ve already got enough weed to get you through the weekend, why buy more if you don’t have to? 

But if you think this means Canadian airports will suddenly be shrouded in a cloud of smoke, think again. 

Don’t Expect to Smoke

While carrying cannabis onto a domestic Canadian flight is legal, passengers are not permitted to smoke while in the air. Additionally, passengers at the Saskatoon Airport will not be allowed to smoke while waiting to board their flights.

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“You’re not able to smoke cannabis here at the airport similar to drinking in public,” explained Stephen Maybury, Saskatoon Airport Authority CEO.

"Toronto,Canada-August 15, 2013: Pearson International Airport. One of largest and busiest airport in the world. About 1100 planes take off or land in a day." iStock / yelo34

But there is a lot that remains to be determined by lawmakers and airport executives. For one, smoking is just one of the ways cannabis can be consumed. It’s not too difficult to infuse cannabis into food and beverages, and it isn’t clear that ingesting weed is off the table. Many airports in Canada are home to alcohol-serving restaurants and cafes, so it isn’t like passengers aren’t boarding their flights intoxicated on something every once in a while, already.

So far, the fine print surrounding domestic travel with cannabis is pretty limited. That will probably change in the near future.

“We have been working with Transport Canada since the government passed the cannabis legislation to ensure our protocols are consistent with government policy,” said Christine Langlois, spokesperson for the Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority. “We expect to finalize our procedure in the coming days.” 

Keep It Domestic

Although cannabis can be carried onto Canadian flights, it remains illegal to fly out of the country with weed. Transport Minister Garneau made that clear in this statement:

“As long as the flight is domestic, people are allowed to bring up to a certain quantity for personal use.  However, I would like to remind people if they’re going to a country like the United States, the rules of that country are the rules that apply,” he said.

Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada, released a warning on its website reminding passengers that traveling across the border in or out of Canada with weed is illegal. “The Canadian Border and Services Agency recommends that you don’t bring it in, don’t take out,” the airline cautioned.

Air Canada continued on to provide a bit of a troubling disclaimer for passengers who may be spontaneously redirected to international airports:

“In the case of a domestic flight, please be advised that unforeseen situations may and do arise that require a domestic flight to divert to a U.S. airport, where arriving in possession of cannabis is not legal,” the statement reads. “If you are refused entry into a country because you have cannabis in your possession, you alone will be responsible for the consequences, including payment of your return trip home.”

Even though over 40 states have legalized weed for medicinal use, it retains its federal designation as a Schedule I substance, or in other words, a drug that has no medical use and a high risk for abuse. It’s hard to imagine that American prohibition of weed will last much longer given the states-led legalization movement and the massive and bipartisan support legalization maintains.

Until the U.S. federal law changes, however, passengers caught flying with cannabis in the United States could face serious penalties, including detention, court hearings, fines, and even being banned from entering the United States for life. That’s even true in states where cannabis is legal (though it’s unlikely the penalties there will represent the full extent of the law).    

How to Discard Cannabis Before Boarding an International Flight is Still Up in the Air

The bottom line is that traveling with cannabis internationally is a no go.  So what are passengers who realize at the last second that they forgot to smoke the rest of the pot in their carry-on stash to do?

Airport with indicated garbage bins for cans, paper, plastic and other waste. iStock / AvigatorPhotographer

At the moment, they get to read the warning signs posted at various airports in Canada and panic.

In the future (the near one, hopefully), airports will adopt the “amnesty boxes” used in United States airports where cannabis is legal. These boxes are secure containers meant to hold discarded pot.

Deepak Anand, a Cannabis Compliance, Inc. executive, is troubled by the currently solution-less problem internationally traveling Canadians may face if they can’t find a proper way to dispose of their stash before flying.

“More than the United States, I’m concerned about countries like China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia that have direct flights from Canada, in some cases, and that could cause significant risks to Canadians that could travel with cannabis,” he said.  “There isn’t really a correct or proper way of disposing it other than throwing it into the random garbage bins that are at the airport.”

In fact, history shows that anxious passengers will resort to means that are very inconvenient for airports to avoid being caught with weed in an illegal zone. In Colorado Springs, travelers disposed of their weed by throwing it in trash cans, flushing it down toilets, and burying it on their property.  When the airport got tired of dealing with that, they invested in amnesty boxes. Las Vegas’ airport uses mailbox-like containers to collect unwanted weed.

It remains to be seen how Canadian airports will address this issue.