Carry-on cannabis? Oregon airports adjust to new law – USA Today – USA TODAY


Harriet Baskas, Special for USA TODAY
7 a.m. EDT July 22, 2015

Thanks to a new law, it’s now fine to fly out of Oregon’s Portland International Airport with pot.

But only if you’re flying to one of the four other Beaver State airports served by PDX.

Fresh signs in the PDX terminal remind passengers that state and federal laws prohibit taking marijuana across state lines. “But the way the law is written, it is permitted to travel [with pot] within the state, provided you’re 21 or over and in possession of the legal amount,” said Kama Simonds, spokeswoman for Portland International Airport.

The new rule applies to travelers flying in-state from Portland to Redmond, Pendleton, Eugene or North Bend airports and was adopted on July 1, when Oregon joined Alaska, Colorado, Washington and the District of Columbia in legalizing recreational marijuana.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. So while Transportation Security Administration officers are looking for devices and materials that impact transportation safety, if they find pot (or other drugs) they’ll still call in local law enforcement.

“Our police officers will respond and assess on a case by case basis,” said Simonds, “but now it’s very likely they’ll simply say ‘Have a nice flight,’ if someone is traveling within the state and meets all the other criteria.”

In 2014, 15.9 million travelers passed through Portland International Airport, but only 4%, or about 636,000 passengers, were flying to destinations within the state.

Other Oregon airports are still working on their policies regarding pot.

Eugene Airport “is considering a policy similar to Portland’s,” said Cathryn Stephens, assistant director at Eugene Airport. The Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton is served by 10-seater jets, “so there’s no TSA screening on our side,” said airport manager Steve Chrisman, “but if we did have screening we would likely adopt a similar policy in accordance with the legal amount.”

In September, the City Council in Redmond will review a draft policy governing how local police will deal with marijuana at the Redmond Municipal Airport.

The draft policy states, in part, that “if called by TSA on a report of marijuana at the checkpoint, Redmond Police would then determine whether the traveler’s possession of marijuana is legal.”

Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in Coos Bay/North Bend did not respond to our requests for information.

Policies vary at airports in other states where recreational marijuana has been legalized.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, “If you have more than is legal in your possession you will be arrested for that crime,” said airport spokesman Perry Cooper, but “if you are found under the legal definition our officer will probably note to you that the laws may be different wherever you travel.”

The policy is somewhat similar at Spokane International Airport, where the airport police department offers to legally destroy marijuana a passenger may not want to risk taking with them to another city in Washington or to another state.

In Colorado, recreational marijuana has been legal since January 2014, but Denver International continues to prohibit possession of pot throughout airport property and to maintain its right to impose fines of up to $999.

In 2014, the 25 passengers found with small amounts of pot at TSA checkpoints in Denver airport complied when a Denver police officer asked them to dispose of the drug. As of April 2015, 13 passengers asked to get rid of their marijuana before traveling have done the same, said airport spokesman Heath Montgomery. To date, no fines have been issued.

Elsewhere in Colorado, amnesty boxes where passengers may deposit pot before passing through security checkpoints remain in place at both Colorado Springs Airport and Aspen/Pitkin County Airport.

In Alaska, which legalized recreational marijuana on Jan. 1 of this year, many regulatory issues remain unresolved.

“The agency being set up to initiate, create and implement the rules and regulations has not completed its work yet, so it would be premature for the airport to proclaim its policy,” said John Parrot, manager of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

“For now, we’re going to enforce the existing laws, and right now it’s not the number one issue here at the airport,” he said.

According to a statement released by the Fairbanks International, if a passenger is found to be traveling with marijuana, the airport police and fire department “will determine whether any state laws may have been violated. If not, travelers can expect to continue with their travel plans.”

There are no signs to this effect at the airport, “and we don’t have amnesty boxes,” said Angela Spear, the airport’s division operations manager. “We’re not keeping any pot in our Lost and Found either.”

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Harriet Baskas is a Seattle-based airports and aviation writer and USA TODAY Travel’s “At the Airport” columnist. Follow her at twitter.com/hbaskas.

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