A year after marijuana was recreationally legalized in California, some of the more negative effects are beginning to show. In 2018, the number of weed smuggling arrests jumped more than 166 percent at LAX, the second busiest airport in the world. In 2018, 101 trafficking arrests were made compared to 8 in 2017 and 20 in 2016. The uptick isn’t an anomaly, as Oakland and Sacramento airport officials have reported similar spikes.

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Do Your Research Before You Travel

However, while more arrests are being made, marijuana is actually allowed inside the Los Angeles airport. LAX’s official policy states: “As of January 1, 2018, California law allows for individuals 21 years of age or older to possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana for personal consumption. (Los Angeles Airport Police Division) officers, who are California Peace Officers, have no jurisdiction to arrest individuals if they are complying with state law.”

Rob Pedregon, Public Information Officer for the Los Angeles Airport Police, told The Stash that people traveling will need to be aware of the rules. “Use common sense and do your research before traveling to a foreign country or another state,” Pedregon said. “Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defense.”

You Aren't Guaranteed The Right To Travel With Cannabis

Seattle, WA AUGUST 26, 2018: Man passes though Transportation Security Administration TSA security checkpoint at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. iStock / David Tran
In Canada, you are legally allowed to fly within the country and hold up to 30 grams of weed, but you are not allowed to smoke it and you have to follow local laws. You also are not allowed to fly with any marijuana internationally. In America, the rules are a little more confusing, as each state and airport has its own policies for what to do with cannabis.

For example, LAX will let you carry a legal amount while the Las Vegas and Denver International Airport’s policy strictly prohibits marijuana. While having marijuana at the Denver Airport won’t land you in jail, the confusion on the rules is one of the factors that has led to the uptick in smuggling arrests as ignorant passengers try to bring marijuana in the air.

The Difference Between Airport Police And TSA

Airport police work under state law and enforce only state law, meaning that as long as you follow the rules, you won’t get arrested for having weed on you. You can travel within the legal state with marijuana (in legal amounts) and some legal states allow you to travel to other legal states with the drug, however, you have to get it past TSA.

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“The Los Angeles Airport Police enforce the laws of the state of California and have the same authority as any municipal agency in the state,” Pedregon said. TSA is not a law enforcement agency and has no enforcement authority. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the main security body for airports in America and have been instructed to refer marijuana-related incidents to local law enforcement. The group doesn’t have any law enforcement power and can’t arrest you, but can make your life a lot harder.

“TSA’s focus is on terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers,” TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers told the Sacramento Bee last year, “TSA’s screening procedures, which are governed by federal law, are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers.”

TSA Follows Federal Regulations

WASHINGTON, DC JULY 3, 2018: TSA Precheck and Global Entry line at security checkpoint at Reagan National Airport iStock / David Tran
Still, TSA is a federally run group, meaning that they abide by federal laws and regulations. Federally, marijuana is still illegal, meaning they can deny you and your bud all they want. Most airports just want their passengers to follow the laws.

Airports in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Boston all allow pot in a similar way to LAX and say that as long as it is the legal amount and they are flying within the state then everything is alright. Most people who are caught with the drug are told to throw it out and continue on their way. Yet, there are still a large number of people who try to bring weed onto airplanes and the number is going up.

Last year at LAX, there were 503 reports of marijuana discovered in bags, and only one-fifth of them involved trafficking suspects. In comparison, there were 400 reports of marijuana in 2017 and 282 reports in 2016. Most of the discoveries were legal amounts or from passengers who “didn’t know” they weren’t allowed to fly with it.

Overall, legalization of marijuana has meant that there’s a lot more of it going through the sky, or at least trying to. “I don’t think we’re surprised by the numbers. These are things we foresaw and we’ve warned folks about,” Kyle Mori of the DEA’s Los Angeles office told The Los Angeles Times. “When states legalize it, you give folks a false sense of security that they can come through TSA checkpoints… They believe what they’re doing is legal.”

Black Market Demand Is High

The increase in trafficking is probably just the beginning as legal weed will no doubt make its way to other parts of the country. With advancements in the marijuana industry leading to better weed, better products and more access, the demand in non-legal parts of the country becomes a ripe business opportunity for dealers in the black market.

California Cannabis Industry Assn. spokesman Josh Drayton told The Los Angeles Times that a pound of marijuana flower that costs $600 to $800 in California can be resold for $4,000 in the Midwest. This profitable turnaround will be the primary reason why marijuana smuggling numbers will continue to go up, that is until cannabis is legalized at the federal level.