Northern California

At this airport, legal cannabis is like a full water bottle

Travelers who are discovered with legal amounts of cannabis at the Humboldt County airport in McKinleyville will likely not be cited by law enforcement, according to Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Samantha Karges.

“In most cases, if you are discovered with the legal amount of marijuana or less at our airport, it is returned to the owner to destroy or get rid of, much like you are not allowed to bring in a full bottle of water through security,” Karges wrote in an email.

Recently, the Los Angeles International Airport updated its policies to match current California law. Their policy now 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,” in the airport. The policy goes on to state that the Los Angeles Airport Police Division has, “no jurisdiction to arrest individuals if they are complying with state law.”

Travelers going through the Humboldt County airport in McKinleyville with a legal amount of cannabis may have it returned to them, much like a full water bottle, according to the sheriff’s office. (Juniper Rose — The Times-Standard file)

But, it’s actually more complicated than that. The LAX statement also warns that the “Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening stations are under federal jurisdiction.”

Karges issued a similar warning.

She said that although the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office enforces state law, under which small amounts of cannabis are legal, they are also authorized to enforce federal law, which classifies any amount of cannabis as illegal.

This means that if you are discovered with a legal amount of cannabis at the Humboldt County airport in McKinleyville, whether or not you are cited depends on the discretion of the member of law enforcement with whom you are interacting.

Karges also wrote, that if “it is a large quantity [of cannabis] and there is evidence that the person was trying to smuggle it past security, we would seize the marijuana and the person would be arrested or cited.”

Director of County Aviation Cody Roggatz said he would defer to law enforcement on the matter.

In light of recent conversations surrounding carry-on cannabis policies at other airports, such as LAX, the Times-Standard reached out to Fly Humboldt’s Gregg Foster.

Foster said he believes that it would behoove smaller airports, like the one in McKinleyville, to have policies consistent with large airports like LAX.

“It’s really not in anybody’s best interest to have airport law enforcement chasing after legal carriers,” he said.

“On a practical level, do you really want to bust people with vape pens?” he asked.

Addressing the role of the TSA as a federal agency, Foster said airport security is there to ensure that passengers are safe.

According to the TSA’s website, “TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but in the event a substance that appears to be marijuana or a cannabis-infused product is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”

“The TSA is there to make sure nothing happens on a plane that creates a safety issue,” Foster said.

“I don’t know if anyone can hijack a plane with a vape pen,” he said.

Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.