With cannabis now legal, what are the rules for bringing it on a plane?
Like other controlled substances, there are specific regulations that govern the rules for traveling abroad.
So, what are the regulations for flying with cannabis?
Can you take it on a plane? If so, how much can you bring?
What about in different forms such as oils or edibles?
We’re here to help you navigate the ins and outs of this according to Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) regulations.
How has legalization affected flying with cannabis?
While it may seem strange, the legalization of cannabis hasn’t had any effect on Canada’s border rules. The Canadian government states that it is still illegal to bring cannabis across our border and doing so can result in serious criminal penalties both at home and abroad.
Simply put, don’t take it in, don’t take it out, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.
But, what about traveling to or from countries where cannabis is legal? In short, it doesn’t matter.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) states that despite legalization, the prohibition on cannabis applies regardless of cannabis quantity, a medical document authorizing use, or whether you’re traveling from someplace where it’s legalized or decriminalized.
You may be thinking, even travel to U.S. states that have legalized cannabis like California or Denver?
The Government of Canada says, “Although the possession of cannabis is legal in some U.S. states, it remains illegal under U.S. federal laws in any form and quantity, making it illegal to bring across the Canada-U.S. border.”
The same rules apply to other countries where cannabis is legalized, such as the Netherlands.
It is worth mentioning that even if you are returning home from a country or area where cannabis is legal, it is still illegal to bring it in — yes, even if you declare it! The CBSA stands firm on the policy “Don’t take it in, don’t take it out” and maintains that if you have cannabis with you in any form when entering Canada, you must declare it or face possible arrest and prosecution
What do airlines say about cannabis?
The airlines operating within Canada are subject to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA).
CATSA is mandated with protecting the public through effective and efficient screening of air travelers and their baggage. If you are traveling within Canada, CATSA has established specific limits for bringing cannabis on a plane.
For recreational cannabis, you are permitted to bring a maximum of 30 grams of dry herb or 100 ml (3.4 oz) of cannabis oil in your carry-on luggage.
If you require cannabis for medicinal purposes and possess valid documentation, the maximum quantity allowed is equal to the lesser of your prescribed 30-day supply or 150 grams. For most, that will mean they can travel with up to a month’s worth of cannabis. Traveling with more could lead to your whole supply being confiscated, so don’t shrug this one off.
Note, you’ll still need to limit liquids to under 100 ml to adhere to CATSA liquid limitations. Be wary that this could mean having less than a full month’s supply of a cannabis oil or tincture. You can read more about cannabis oil dosages on our blog.
Air Canada warns its passengers that despite adhering to CATSA regulations on domestic flights, in the event of an unexpected flight diversion to a U.S. airport the onus of responsibility is on the traveler if denied entry due to cannabis possession.
West Jet has not issued any policy differing from CATSA regulations. In fact, they openly posted on their Twitter account in 2014 that they simply differ to CATSA with respect to cannabis limits for domestic air travel.
Porter Airlines adds that even when traveling within Canada, it is your responsibility to learn and adhere to the laws of the province you are traveling to. Some areas are more restrictive than others.
For example in New Brunswick, residents are limited to carrying 30 grams of cannabis, period. In contrast, if you are traveling to a First Nations Reservation you are not required to adhere to provincial standards for cannabis as each community is tasked with establishing their own rules — meaning you’ll have to check out the reserve’s unique regulations before bringing in cannabis.
Porter also reminds travelers that whatever form of cannabis you are bringing on a plane “must be kept in stowed luggage at all times and cannot be consumed, rolled or otherwise exposed to the cabin or other passengers at any time.”
According to CATSA, passengers are permitted to travel with any form of cannabis so long as it is in accordance with Health Canada’s regulations and your unique prescription. That means topicals, tinctures, oils, and edibles are technically fair game (so long as you’d regularly be allowed to use them). Read our blog post to learn about the different forms of cannabis.
In the case of edibles, you’ll have to abide by all the usual restrictions when it comes to traveling with food – check out your airline’s unique list of restricted and prohibited items to make sure you’re in the clear. Air Canada, for example, requires all carry-on food to be wrapped or in a container, while WestJet requires disposable packaging.
There are no official rules preventing you from traveling with alternative forms of cannabis, but be aware that they may catch unfamiliar customs officers off-guard, so proceed with caution.
If you grow your own cannabis, you obviously won’t have proof of purchase or packaging from an LP. In this case, make sure you’re carrying an “Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation – Registration Certificate.”
Going to the United States with Cannabis
Legalization of cannabis has caused a bit of a stir with our southern neighbours. Despite many U.S. states having legalized cannabis, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made it clear that the rules have remained unchanged.
Whether you’re traveling to the U.S. by air or car, both the CBP and CBSA concur on the policy “Don’t bring it in, don’t bring it out.”
In the months leading up to legalization, there were growing concerns for Canadians that work or invest in the cannabis industry. The CBP previously took a hard stance and stated that Canadian citizens “working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect admissibility to the U.S”.
Understandably, many Canadians who travel regularly to the U.S. were panicking and worried about getting a lifetime ban for having any association with the cannabis industry.
The U.S. CBP has now updated its policy (Oct 9, 2018) to read, “A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S. however, if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”
However, for many popular tourist destinations like Florida, Hawaii, and New York, cannabis has only been legalized for medicinal use. If you’re bound for such a destination, your options are unfortunately pretty limited. This is because prescriptions for medical cannabis in Canada don’t necessarily transfer to the United States.
Obviously, the regulations are dependent on the individual state. If you are traveling, it’s best to reach out to a company that sells medical cannabis beforehand to understand if you qualify for purchasing medical cannabis in that state. Unfortunately, some states require you to be a resident to purchase medical cannabis so it’s not often the case that Canadian patients qualify.
Tips for a better experience when going through security with cannabis
Keep it in your carry-on – While you are technically allowed to carry cannabis in either a carry-on or checked baggage, keep in mind that security dogs at certain airports are trained to identify narcotics in checked luggage. This means that keeping your medication in a checked bag can be risky, so it’s recommended that you keep your supply in your carry-on.
Because medical cannabis is a prescription medication, the airline cannot force you to put it in checked luggage. Some airlines, such as Air Canada, even require medication to be kept in your carry-on, so there’s no reason not to keep it with you.
Bring your documentation — CATSA’s regulations on medical cannabis advise you to “be prepared to show medical documentation” when making your way through airport security.
The term “medical documentation” is vague, so be sure to bring your Health Canada Registration Certificate and proof of purchase from an LP just to be safe. Also, keep the cannabis in the LP’s original packaging to avoid extra hassle from particularly apprehensive screening officers.
Show up a little early — The regulations previously stated that an on-site police officer may be called to verify your documentation. While this is technically no longer the case, it is still possible that a customs officer or airline employee may still follow the old protocol.
This process can take some time, so arrive at the airport early to avoid missing your flight. There have been a few reports of cannabis users getting through security with a few grams unquestioned, but if you are taking a reasonable supply, expect to be pulled aside and asked for documentation.
Keep it odour-free — Generally, you won’t be stopped if your cannabis is packed away and doesn’t smell. To avoid delays and possible missed flights, make sure your ancillary products (vape pens, portable vaporizers, etc.) are well cleaned and your supply is stored in odor-proof packaging. For more specific information about different vaporizers, read our blog post.
As a general rule, if you abide by CATSA’s regulations, you can be confident that the only penalty you’ll be subject to is a lengthy trip through customs.
Need More than the Legal Carrying Limit?
Current regulations generally provide enough leeway for most users to survive a short trip. But don’t worry, if you need more than the legal maximum, you’ve still got options.
Most Canadian LPs are able to ship nationwide and can temporarily change your shipping address while you’re traveling.
Keep in mind, however, that you still won’t be able to purchase more than your prescription dictates during any given month. That means that if you’ve already had your full monthly prescription delivered to you, your LP won’t be able to provide you with an additional product even if you’re in a new location. So, plan ahead and ask your LP what cannabis delivery options will be best for your needs.