How — and why — it’s OK to fly high: Thank Ed Rosenthal

Medical marijuana patients have the right to carry marijuana on an airplane. Airspace is federal territory, and interstate travel is regulated federally — where state medical marijuana laws have no bearing. But the right to fly with cannabis was earned after constant challenges to law enforcement’s authority to confiscate airline passengers’ marijuana. The main challenger: ganja growing guru Ed Rosenthal.

At Oakland International Airport for a 2011 flight, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents discovered marijuana in Rosenthal’s carry-on during a security screening (editor’s note: he won’t say how much, but we suspect it was significant). Agents alerted Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies, who seized the cannabis. Not wanting to miss his flight, Rosenthal documented the incident — and issued some instructions to the officers. “Call your counsel and tell them Ed Rosenthal wants his weed back,” Rosenthal told the deputies.

He was right. He got his cannabis back. And as it turned out — and as the TSA made public in 2013 — the TSA has no authority to enforce federal drug laws. And local agencies, to which the TSA refers confiscated drugs, are obligated to follow state law.

After the incident in Oakland, Rosenthal challenged airports in Portland, Medford, and Los Angeles in the same way: sailing through security with cannabis in his luggage. Every time his marijuana was seized, he and attorney Lee Berger informed the airport they were in the wrong.
And every time, the marijuana was returned.

Eventually, airports adopted policies respecting a patient’s right to travel with medicine. In most cases, he brought friends to celebrate with on the trips to pick up his weed. “I especially like using the material right in front of the police once I get it back,” he tells SF Evergreen. Other airports in Oregon have adopted similar policies…which surprised even Rosenthal.

“It was pretty amazing because I didn’t even have Oregon registration and I said, ‘I want my medicine back,’” Rosenthal says. “I just said, ‘I am willing to fight that part too.’”


Nationwide, TSA policy is to refer marijuana to the local police department responsible for monitoring the airport. That’s good news in half the country, where recreational or medical cannabis is legal: Law enforcement is obligated to enforce local laws. At San Francisco International Airport, medical cannabis patients can fly with up to 8 ounces — and possibly more, if a doctor’s recommendation states more is needed. However, SFPD’s Airport Bureau says that travelers must be aware of and adhere to laws where they are going. At Los Angeles International Airport, the LAPD says it’ll “tolerate up to an ounce” with valid state ID and verifiable doctor’s recommendation. Police contend patients must be flying in state with their medicine — but it is not typically their policy to alert authorities on the receiving end. At Mineta San Jose, airport officials specify no possession amount, but do note that “[t]ravelers may be asked to show their prescription for medical marijuana.”

According to Berger, the Port of Portland’s unspoken policy is not to deal with medical marijuana for state registered patients.


Rosenthal says more airports will make it their policy to respect patients’ right to travel with medicine if more people challenge them. He says it’s easy to do, and has simplified it into three easy steps:
*Politely protest, remind the officers they have no legal authority to confiscate your medicine.
*If the marijuana is not returned, ask for a receipt and take photograph or video the situation. Record officers’ names and badge numbers.
*When you return from your trip, call the sheriff’s office and politely demand your marijuana be returned. If it has no record of it, you do. Call the media and local activist organizations. Your marijuana has been stolen.

Photo credit: Rex Roof/Flickr