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Federal Law Leaves Marijuana in a No-Fly Zone

Federal regulations mean that passengers flying from one weed-legal destination to another with their personal stash may still be breaking the law, but in at least one U.S. airport, that weed can fly.
A disposal box at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. The tearstains around it have dried.
A disposal box at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. The tearstains around it have dried.Regina Garcia Cano/AP

There’s still a lot of confusion around legal weed. Though banned federally, each state, and even county, decides what kind of weed is allowed, and users don’t always know what those lines are. One of the spaces that catches people by surprise? Airports. Commercial flights work under federal law, and boarding them requires passing inspection by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), another federal operation.

Because airports are the boundary between local and national rule, staff and security have to negotiate the transition with pot-carrying passengers leaving weed-legal towns. For some, the solution has been amnesty boxes. These bright-green mini mailboxes at airports let passengers anonymously deposit weed or any illegal substances. The contents are regularly emptied by police or private contractors and destroyed. As a last-minute opportunity to dodge a felony, the boxes have probably saved some people from citations, fines, and jail time, but they do the airports some favors, too.