Cannabidiol (CBD) has been legal across America for a while, but federal air transportation regulators, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have only just recently announced a shift in policy. Travelers will now be allowed to carry hemp-based CBD products onto flights and in carry-on luggage as well as checked baggage. 

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This recent change by the TSA was in response to the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018; the so-called “farm bill” removed hemp-based and cannabis-based CBD products low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (less than 0.3%) from regulation under the Controlled Substances Act. Following the bill’s passage last year, CBD-containing products are now regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Last year, the FDA approved the first cannabis-based drug, Epidiolex, for the treatment of several rare forms of pediatric epilepsy which are unresponsive to traditional anti-epileptic pharmaceutical medications.

The Farm Bill And Epidiolex

hemp leaf in rain iStock / Zbynek Pospisil

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In a recent statement by Mark Howell, a spokesperson for the TSA, “TSA was made aware of an FDA-approved drug that contains CBD oil for children who experience travel with this drug, TSA immediately updated once we became aware of the issue.”

Whether the TSA acted immediately is somewhat debatable; nearly a year passed between the FDA’s approval of Epidiolex and the TSA issuing its policy change announcement.

A word of caution - it’s important to remember that THC-containing oils derived from cannabis remain illegal on the federal level, despite medical legalization in 33 states, and recreational legalization in 9 of those, along with the District of Columbia. Some CBD-containing oils do also have higher amounts of THC, especially if purchased in a state with broader medical and recreational marijuana laws. Be careful to purchase CBD-only products with less than 0.3% THC if you intend to bring them with you when you travel on an airplane.

The Difference Between Medical And Recreational Cannabis Is Nonexistent

According to the TSA, medical marijuana and recreational cannabis are essentially the same thing under federal law. On the TSA website, it says the following: “Whether or not marijuana is considered legal under local laws is not relevant to TSA screening because TSA is governed by federal law. Federal law provides no basis to treat medical marijuana any differently than non-medical marijuana.”

A temporary glitch on the TSA website caused some confusion by implying that travelers could actually bring medical cannabis onto flights with them. However, that is not the case. Only hemp-based products will be allowed past TSA; if the TSA find any cannabis-based products containing greater than 0.3% THC, they will not hesitate to contact local law enforcement.

The official TSA policy reads, “Possession of marijuana and cannabis-infused products, such as cannabidiol (CBD) oil, is illegal under federal law. TSA officers are required to report any suspected violation of law, including possession of marijuana and cannabis-infused products. TSA’s screening[s] are focused on security and are designed to direct potential threats to aviation and passengers. Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but in the event that a substance that appears to be marijuana or a cannabis-infused product is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a local law enforcement officer.”