Weed smuggling arrests skyrocket at LAX after state made pot legal. So what’s the law?

Los Angeles International Airport police say marijuana is legal there in small amounts.

But a growing number of fliers are learning the hard way that smuggling huge quantities of cannabis will still get them in legal trouble, according to a new report in the Los Angeles Times.

Arrest records show that weed trafficking arrests have jumped 166 percent at LAX since recreational marijuana became legal in California a little more than a year ago — and the large Southern California airport isn’t alone in grappling with smuggling attempts, with Oakland and Sacramento airport police describing similar spikes, the newspaper reports.

Records from LAX show there were 101 trafficking arrests last year after weed became legal, whereas there were only 38 in 2017 and 20 in 2016, according to the paper.

Recreational pot is legal in 10 states across the U.S., while medical marijuana is legal in 33, Business Insider reports.

As McClatchy reported late last year, travelers at LAX have been allowed to carry up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana for personal consumption since California law legalized recreational marijuana in January 2018, according to Los Angeles Airport Police spokesperson Alicia Hernandez. That policy made waves on social media in the fall when people noticed it was posted on the airport’s website. Even so, the rules only apply to legal quantities of the drug, as would-be drug traffickers are discovering, the Times reports.

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“Based on our policy, we’re not going to arrest you or confiscate marijuana,” Hernandez said of legal quantities of cannabis in a phone interview with McClatchy in September.

But travelers hoping to carry marijuana through LAX should still be aware that they have to get past U.S. Transportation Security Administration agents at LAX, Hernandez said — and at the federal level, marijuana is still very much illegal. Planes fly through federal airspace, as LAX policy acknowledges, meaning federal law prohibiting marijuana possession is applicable.

“We are two different entities,” Hernandez said. “TSA can deny you coming through the checkpoint. The checkpoint is their jurisdiction.”

So what will TSA agents do at LAX?

“TSA’s focus is on terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers,” TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers wrote in a September email to McClatchy, adding that “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.”

When a TSA agent discovers marijuana on a traveler or in luggage, agents are instructed to refer the violation to law enforcement, Dankers said. That’s the policy regardless of where the traveler is in the country, and regardless of where the traveler is headed — even if the states involved have legalized marijuana.

“Law enforcement officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation or what steps – if any – will be taken,” Dankers said, adding that “whether or not the passenger is allowed to travel with marijuana is up to law enforcement’s discretion.”

Some material in this story appeared in an earlier piece by the author on the same topic

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