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Essential California: What are the rules for bringing weed into a California airport?

Essential California: What are the rules for bringing weed into a California airport?
An airplane descends to land at Los Angeles International Airport above a billboard advertising the marijuana delivery service Eaze in July 2018. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, May 14, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

On Sunday, my colleague Joseph Serna broke a fascinating story about the recent surge in pot smuggling arrests at Los Angeles International Airport. Proposition 64, which passed in Nov. 2016 and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults in California. But marijuana-related arrests at the world’s fourth-busiest airport have skyrocketed since the state legalized recreational pot.

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Serna attributed the increase to “the basic idea of supply and demand,” explaining that California has always served as a pathway for marijuana to the rest of the country, both for weed coming up from Mexico as well as the booming grow industry in-state, particularly in Northern California. Demand has increased as recreational marijuana use gained greater social acceptance around the country, even as legalization lagged behind in other states. “Since it’s not legal in so many other parts of the country but it’s still in such high demand, people are basically just selling it, and doing it at a great profit compared to what they’d be making in California,” he explained.

But what if you’re not a drug dealer/entrepreneur planning to smuggle bricks of weed out of state in the hopes of turning a big profit? Can the average adult take weed through a California airport for recreational purposes?

People are often confused by the law, and there are some jurisdictional issues. But the answer is yes, with some caveats.

First, let’s talk about how much weed you’re carrying and where you’ll get stopped. Presuming that you’re not stupid enough to actually light up inside the airport, no one will be flagging whether or not you’re holding until you go through a TSA security checkpoint.

TSA’s primary focus is terrorism, and they’re specifically looking for security threats. But, as TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers explained over the phone, “when we’re looking for security threats sometimes we come across other items.”

If those items happen to be in violation of federal law, which recreational marijuana possession still is, TSA will refer them to the local airport law enforcement agency, which decides what happens next.

TSA agents check passengers for departure at Terminal 7 at the Los Angeles International Airport in January 2018.
TSA agents check passengers for departure at Terminal 7 at the Los Angeles International Airport in January 2018. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Enter airport police, who are tasked with enforcing California — and not federal — law. After TSA notifies them, airport police will respond to the location and assess whether an individual has an allowable personal amount of marijuana with them. This is where how much weed you have on you will really matter.

A California adult (ages 21 and up) can legally possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana (the regular leafy stuff) and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana (what you’d find in a vape pen) for personal use.

But how much weed is 28.5 grams, beyond being roughly equivalent to an ounce? Rob Pedregon, a Los Angeles Airport Police spokesman, described it as akin to “a fistful.” Sgt. Michael Lee of the San Francisco Police Department’s Airport Bureau said it would depend on how tightly the marijuana was packed, but if it was in a Ziploc, it would likely fill a “loosely packed sandwich bag.”

Pedregon and Lee also both said that it’s usually visually apparent whether or not an individual’s stash will fall into the category of personal use. “If it’s something blatantly illegal, it’s kind of obvious,” Lee said.

Here’s where it’s especially important not to be an idiot. If what you’re carrying is over the usable amount and you get caught, you’ll be arrested by airport police. “And the charges, more than likely, are going to be for trafficking and transporting of cannabis,” according to Pedregon.

But as long as your stash falls at or under the allowable amount, you should be allowed to continue on your merry way.

“They are legally — well, I shouldn’t say legally — they are able to take that cannabis with them,” Pedregon explained of LAX passengers with a legal amount of recreational weed on them.

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Pedregon hesitated because what comes next technically falls into a legal gray area. Once your plane takes off, you’ll be in federal airspace, where possession of recreational marijuana is decidedly not legal. But, save for some freak hypothetical where you happen to take that Ziploc bag out of your carry-on while, say, sitting next to a DEA officer in flight, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Once your plane lands, you’ll be out of federal airspace and subject to whatever laws are applicable at your destination.

“We recommend that people are mindful of the laws of where they’re traveling to and what the laws of the states are,” Pedregon said, underscoring that California travelers should be especially cognizant of what they may or may not be carrying when traveling internationally.

“You could, in some cases, get very severe penalties for taking cannabis into another country,” he warned.

And now, and here’s what’s happening across California:

TOP STORIES

An Oakland jury dealt a serious blow to Monsanto on Monday, awarding $2 billion-plus in damages to a Bay Area couple. Both members of the couple were diagnosed with cancer after spraying their properties with Monsanto Co.’s widely used Roundup weed-killer for more than three decades. This is not the first lawsuit of its kind to be won against the agrochemical giant, but it is by far the largest sum awarded in a judgment. San Francisco Chronicle

In a rebuke to President Trump, Gov. Gavin Newsom pardoned two Cambodian refugees facing deportation. The two refugees were among seven former felons pardoned by Newsom in his first acts of clemency since taking office. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

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Midnight movies are thriving in Los Angeles, and film programmers are rewriting the rules for late-night flicks. Here’s a look at where and what to watch around the city. Los Angeleno

Art critic Christopher Knight finds another flaw with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s $650-million redesign: concrete walls. Apparently, hanging paintings on cast concrete is notoriously difficult, and the “chic” design choice will come with plenty of consequences. Los Angeles Times

In 2018, wealthy enclaves like Hancock Park and Cheviot Hills had the highest burglary rates in the city. But they’ve seen a substantial decrease in crime during the first quarter of this year, while the San Fernando Valley neighborhoods of Tarzana and Toluca Lake have unseated them for the ignominious top spots. Crosstown LA

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Heather Repenning and Jackie Goldberg will be facing off in a runoff election for a Los Angeles school board seat today. Goldberg — who captured 48% of the vote in the primary, compared to Repenning's 13% share — is the frontrunner, but anything could happen in this closely watched local race. Polls will be open until 8 p.m. with results expected soon after, and this page will update as the votes are tallied. Los Angeles Times

Gov. Newsom is already facing criticism for not delivering on some of his grander promises. Los Angeles Times

A spectacular boom in warehouses and distribution centers over the past decade helped lift the Inland Empire out of the Great Recession, bringing an estimated 84,000 jobs. But massive industrial investments come at a price. Cities often grant tens of millions of dollars in incentives to major retailers without ironclad contracts to guarantee jobs or benefits. This deep dive looks at poverty and pollution in the Inland Empire, as the state Legislature seeks to curb subsidies for massive warehouse developments. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Last week, four teachers and a principal in Palmdale were placed on leave after a smiling photo of the educators posing with what appears to be a noose circulated on email and social media. Now, it appears that that photo with the noose might be tied to a notorious child abuse case. Los Angeles Times

A 22-year-old woman has been charged with posting Nazi propaganda posters at Newport Harbor High School in Orange County. Orange County Register

THE ENVIRONMENT

Expect wet weather and possible record-setting cold in the Sacramento Valley and foothills, with a rare mid-May snowfall likely to begin in the Sierra on Wednesday, with potential for up to a foot of snow by the end of the weekend. Sacramento Bee

Meanwhile, San Francisco may see a month’s worth of rain in a single day. The area will likely see the bulk of the rain from Wednesday into Thursday. SFGate

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Actress, singer and animal lover Doris Day, who died Monday at age 97, will also be remembered as co-owner of the Cypress Inn in Carmel. Sunset Magazine once described its as “probably the most famous dog-friendly hotel in the country.” Los Angeles Times

Fans of the series “Big Little Lies” will enjoy this show-inspired tour of sites in and around Monterey, where the HBO series is set. Mercury News

The Los Angeles Lakers have entered the NBA’s lottery sphere for the sixth consecutive time. On Tuesday night they’ll find out where they will select and what the future holds for them and newly hired coach Frank Vogel when the NBA holds its annual lottery show in Chicago. Los Angeles Times

How a constellation of South Asian culture on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles connects a community. Los Angeles Times

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Oakland officials are exploring the possibility of opening a safe injection site in the city. California lawmakers are already considering a state bill that would sanction San Francisco to operate a supervised safe injection site for illicit drug users. Last week, Oakland’s mayor and a local councilwoman introduced a City Council resolution to support that state bill, and request that it be amended to include Oakland as well as San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Partly sunny, 75. San Diego: Partly sunny, 71. San Francisco: Cloudy, 64. San Jose: Cloudy, 70. Sacramento: Cloudy, 73. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from David Saslav of Great Falls, Mont.:

“Melissa and I emigrated from elsewhere in America in the pre-bubble ’80s, as twenty-somethings; met at a California Bach Society Board meeting in SF; dated; traveled; and finally married in 1991. We rented an affordable house with a view atop Mt. Davidson for 16 years, then decamped for Redwood City following the recession. We performed throughout, teaching and recording classical music as joyful progressives, until even our combined arts-and-high-tech income seemed insecure amid increasing inequity and insensitivity. Meanwhile, Melissa’s childhood roots and family had beckoned nonstop; we now live purple (politically), at drastically lower cost — Montanans as of last July.”

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