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Avoid Disaster By Knowing Law Before Traveling With Cannabis

Matt Weeks
traveling with cannabis represetned by young professional in front of departures board

Do your homework on the cannabis laws of your destination before you leave home, or you could end up in these foreign prisons.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on November 19th 2019 to reflect Thailand’s Updated Cannabis Laws.

Cannabis and its related products are becoming legalized and decriminalized in certain parts of the world. However, traveling with cannabis can still land you in very hot water. So, before you book your next international trip, it helps to do some research. Understanding drug laws is key. Not only of the country you’re entering, but also the rules on crossing the border while carrying.

This holds true for cannabis flower, which the U.S. federal government still considers an illegal narcotic. But, also take care when traveling with products as benign and legal as CBD oil and CBD edibles. Even though CBD is legal almost everywhere, it’s often the product that jails people who get caught traveling with cannabis. This is despite the fact that it can’t intoxicate anyone.

Anti-traveling laws can bring stiff penalties, including fines, bans, and — worst of all — reams of government paperwork. If you want to save yourself the money and time, be sure to triple-check the laws of the countries you’re moving between. Smart travelers know that even countries with similar cannabis laws will often bar people from bringing weed from one country to another.

UK Border crossing lineup in airport.

Unfriendly Neighbors: Canada and the U.S.

Several U.S. states that border Canada have permissive cannabis laws. Canada has fully legalized the substance. However, traveling with cannabis is still a big no-no between America and its neighbor to the north. It goes both ways, really. Canada doesn’t want U.S. weed coming in, and America has put life-time bans on Canadians for trying to bring a smidgen of cannabis into the States.

The irony here is that a traveler can buy cannabis in Canada, consume it, then hop the border into Washington state and buy cannabis again and use it — all legally and easily. If this was any other medical substance — Advil, Percocet, Fentanyl, steroids, etc. — travelers would be welcome to bring their medicine with them on business and personal trips.

Baffling North American Legislation

The logic gets even more puzzling, however. Many airports, like those in Los Angeles and Boston, allow you carry weed in their facilities. But somewhere between boarding your plane and landing, the substance turns from a harmless medicine into a dangerous, illicit drug. No one ever said traveling with cannabis made sense.

To illustrate that point, consider this scenario: A TSA agent in Boston catches you with a bag of pot. Since the administration does not confiscate drugs like it does weapons, the agent turns you over to a Massachusetts state officer. That officer will find that you’ve violated no state laws and let you go on your way — right back into the arms of the TSA. And round and round on this ludicrous carousel you go. You’re more likely to get tired of the bureaucratic process before you get a clear answer on what to do with your pot.

airport x-ray scanning bins, lookign for those traveling with cannabis

That round-and-round rigmarole shows how traveling with cannabis is not always illegal — just most of the time. For instance, if you’re flying within the United States, the TSA has deemed it legal and safe to fly with CBD products that contain less than 0.3 percent THC.

What is very illegal is landing at any airport outside the United States with cannabis products. That includes Amsterdam.

Beware! Countries with the Stiffest Cannabis Penalties

If you’re determined to travel with cannabis and no amount of reason will stop you, prepare for the worst. It would be very foolish and irresponsible, and you could be jeopardizing your freedom. While many countries will confiscate your stash and give a fine, some will lock you up and throw away the key. If you’re taking a calculated risk that you’ll get through customs without walking in front of a drug dog, be aware of what you’re risking.

Some of the most severe punishments for cannabis smuggling come from the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates for example, will give you a minimum of four years in a Dubai prison for even a single joint. Many Arab nations still permit the death penalty for drug law abuses. While others, like cannabis-producing Morocco, are more lenient.

Asian countries also tend to have draconian punishments for minor weed infractions. In high-tech Japan, traveling with cannabis can land you in jail for up to five years. Although your first time usually results in a six-month sentence.

The Philippines — with its infamous law-and-order president — has no sympathy for cannabis patients. While many in the Southeast Asian nation will admit to having tried cannabis, getting caught is a different story. Smuggling offenses carry multi-year jail terms in some of the harshest prison conditions in the world.

young woman pulling suitcase across tarmack to plane

Travelling in Thailand

A standout from the drug-harsh policies of most East-Asian countries is Thailand. They were the first Southeast Asian country allowing medical cannabis. Now, they’re a first in allowing outsiders to use Cannabis. Though it has not yet taken effect,a new law will let foreigners and tourists bring their medical cannabis cards with them for use in Thailand. Note: you may need to notarize the medical card with your country’s Thai embassy first. Still, this is a huge step in allowing medical patients ease of travel.

Tips for Traveling with Cannabis

If you want to avoid becoming the protagonist in an episode of “Locked Up Abroad” it’s best to be cautious. Obey every rule when it comes to traveling with cannabis. Even though the likelihood of getting caught with an edible on a plane might be small, the risk outweighs the reward.

The best tips for patients who are planning on traveling with cannabis is to restrict your products to those with CBD only. Additionally checking the laws in your destination country is an absolute must! Traveling with THC and cannabis flower is illegal.

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Matt Weeks

A writer living and working in Athens, GA, Matt's work has appeared in various newspapers, books, magazines and online publications over the last 15 years. When he's not writing, he hosts bar trivia, plays in local bands, and makes a mean guacamole. He holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in organizational theory. His favorite movie is "Fletch."

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