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Indy Explains: Can you bring pot across state lines?

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
EconomyGovernmentIndy ExplainersMarijuana
Customer at The Source dispensary

Is it OK for a tourist to bring marijuana from a Los Angeles dispensary along for their Vegas weekend? Are edibles from Reno allowed on a flight to Portland?

The launch of legal recreational pot sales in California this month is raising new questions about what’s permissible when it comes to traveling with cannabis, which remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance that’s on par with heroin in the federal government’s eyes.

Things are further in flux after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday the revocation of the Cole Memo, which had given state-regulated marijuana industries some confidence that they wouldn’t be raided by federal law enforcement. The level of enforcement will now be at the discretion of Nevada’s newly appointed interim U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson, who starts her job Friday and whose positions on the matter are virtually unknown.

The Indy sought guidance from law enforcement and other experts in the field to get clarity on what’s kosher when traveling between states with legalized recreational marijuana. Here’s what you need to know:

Can I bring marijuana I’ve legally purchased from one state into another that allows adult-use marijuana?

No. Nevada Highway Patrol Capt. Andy McAfee affirmed that it’s still illegal to transport a controlled substance across state lines. Doing so is a misdemeanor, or a felony if it’s in large quantities or there’s probable cause that it’s being brought over for the purpose of illegal sales.

The act is a crime under NRS 454.351, which says “any person within this State who possesses, procures, obtains, processes, produces, derives, manufactures, sells, offers for sale, gives away or otherwise furnishes any drug which may not be lawfully introduced into interstate commerce under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

A misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

But will I get caught?

Riana Durrett, director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, acknowledged that law enforcement isn’t staging checkpoints at the state’s borders to catch people carrying small amounts of recreational marijuana. But she said police who apprehend someone and find marijuana with them might be able to tell that certain products are from out of state because in the highly fragmented industry, many brands are confined to a single state.

She notes that the Cole Memo — a now-moot 2013 federal document guiding law enforcement in light of some states’ legalization of recreational marijuana — specifically lists interstate marijuana flow as a concern. One of just eight law enforcement priorities in the document is “preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states.”

Chuck Callaway, a lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said officers aren’t as worried about everyday customers who happen to bring a small amount of marijuana from out of state on a road trip.

“If we’re making arrests, it’s for serious offenses and people trafficking large amounts of marijuana,” he said. “The guy who has a joint in his pocket after going to the dispensary and crosses the state line — that’s not what we’re interested in.”

What happens to my marijuana if I’m arrested?

That depends on whether the marijuana is in any way linked to a crime or just happened to be in the arrestee’s legal possession when he or she was stopped.

“Marijuana confiscated as a result of a crime and having evidential value to the charges associated with the crime is maintained in a secured vault until such time the criminal case has been adjudicated,” McAfee explained. “A destroy order is received from the related district attorney’s office and the marijuana is destroyed by [Nevada Department of Public Safety] evidence custodians.”

If the marijuana is not linked to the crime, it’s documented and released to the owner when let out of jail.

“Most jails in Nevada will not accept marijuana as personal property during an intake, thus the legal marijuana is either stored with DPS as personal property and in a ‘safekeeping’ status or left with the suspect’s other belongings, i.e. inside a vehicle that is towed,” McAfee said.

Can marijuana be taken on a plane?

On its website, the Transportation Security Administration says marijuana is not permitted on a plane. But it notes that security officers don’t search specifically for marijuana or other drugs, and if they do find drugs, they’ll refer the case to law enforcement.

“Whether or not marijuana is considered legal under local law is not relevant to TSA screening because TSA is governed by federal law,” the agency said.

At McCarran International Airport, people carrying drugs would be referred to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Callaway said officers still have discretion based on the circumstances, and could direct the person to get rid of the marijuana or let them off with a warning.

“I haven’t heard of this being a major problem,” he said.

Going through customs with marijuana, however, could be dicier.

“U.S. Customs is another area with its own rules and regulations, so anything found within its purview would be subject to federal penalties, including arrest,” airport spokesman Chris Jones added.

Can marijuana be taken to the airport?

The Clark County Commission has banned marijuana in all county airports, and prohibits marijuana advertising on airport property, even when it’s leased to a private business.

“Despite actions in certain states, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law,” Jones said. “Because the Department of Aviation accepts federal money, it’s subject to federal rules and regulations. The Clark County Commission approved a ban this past September to ensure its airports remain consistent with federal laws.”

People who accidentally bring marijuana to the airport will soon have a way to safely and anonymously dispose of the product before boarding a plane. Jones said the commission in October authorized the installation of 20 “amnesty boxes” at McCarran, the Henderson Executive Airport, the North Las Vegas Airport and McCarran’s car rental facility.

Those are expected to be delivered by late January and early February, and will display text that communicates the airport-wide marijuana ban.

Can out-of-state marijuana sneak into Nevada’s state-licensed dispensaries?

Marijuana grown outside Nevada isn’t allowed to be sold in Nevada, and importing it would be difficult because of the state’s “seed-to-sale” tracking system. Clones and seeds are tagged and tracked through a database called Metrc from the beginning until they’re sold as a product in a dispensary.

“We know exactly what’s in everyone’s inventory, and we follow it all the way to the point of sale,” said Stephanie Klapstein, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Taxation. “If something from outside that system were introduced, we’d be able to identify it as we do inventory adjustments.”

Is the state spreading the word?

Durrett said new recreational marijuana regulations set for approval by the Nevada Tax Commission will call for dispensaries to post signage warning people that taking marijuana over state lines is not allowed.

Klapstein said that her agency did some radio and TV public service announcements during the first few months of recreational marijuana sales, but those focused on state law about public consumption bans, driving and purchasing from licensed stores, not on the prohibition against bringing pot from state to state.


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