Getting High in the Sky With SFO’s Weed Policies

Now that cannabis is legal in California, can we fly with our stash?

Ask anyone, and they’re likely to have advice on two things: how to cure the hiccups, and how to smuggle pot on an airplane.

For as long as we’ve been using cannabis, we’ve been trying to figure out how best to pass undetected beneath the watchful eyes of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Some swear by peanut butter jars; others say shampoo bottles are the only way to go. In the personal experience of friends and colleagues, it seems the only surefire way to succeed is to legitimately forget you left some pot in your pockets, only to discover your treasure after you land.

With the passage of Proposition 64 in November, cannabis possession is now legal for all California residents 21 and older. As lawmakers scramble to define precisely what that means, many are left to wonder just how these rules will apply in specific situations. Previously, this column has explored the evolving policy of driving with cannabis, but now another question springs to mind: Is San Francisco International Airport chill if we bring our legally allotted ounce of cannabis with us to the airport?

According to SFO Public Information Officer Doug Yakel, the answer is still slightly unclear.

“The airport doesn’t have a specific policy on this,” Yakel wrote. “It’s really more of a law-enforcement issue.”

The security officers at SFO are not part of the San Francisco Police Department. Employees of Covenant Aviation Security — the private company contracted by the TSA — screen your bags and pat you down before you board. But there is an SFPD Airport Bureau on the premises, as they are presumably the law enforcement officials that one might expect trouble from if drug laws were to be broken.

Asked further about the situation, Yakel provides some detail that one can choose to read as a cautiously optimistic sign for the future of traveling in possession of cannabis.

“As a rule of thumb, our law enforcement personnel would not confiscate a personal use amount (i.e., one ounce) from someone heading to a location where it’s legal, but they would warn the person that they might have issues at their destination, where possession is still illegal,” he wrote.

Whoa! So, as Yakel tells it, one could walk into SFO tomorrow with an ounce of cannabis and a ticket to LAX or to any state where recreational use has also been legalized, and merely be given a warning to tread lightly. It should be stated that while Yakel is speaking in his official capacity as the SFO Public Information Officer, the airport has yet to clarify its position publicly.

Yakel says the real concern is for amounts that exceed the personal use quotient and are likely intended for sale.

“Seizures and arrests by law enforcement are focused on attempts to move large quantities (pounds, not ounces) for the purpose of distribution and sale.”

As of now, Yakel also says he is “not aware” of anyone who has tried to test the merit of Prop. 64 by bringing marijuana into SFO. While it does seem like only a matter of time before someone takes the plunge, it’s reasonable to assume no one is eager to go first.

He also notes that he doesn’t expect any amendments to airport policy for SFO in light of Prop. 64, reinforcing the distinction that “it’s a law-enforcement issue, not an airport issue.”

As everything surrounding cannabis continues to evolve by the second — from new innovations to fears over potential retribution from a Justice Department led by noted anti-pot Attorney General Jeff Sessions — it’s no surprise to see the details surrounding airplane travel with marijuana are few and far between. However, there do appear to be some changes taking shape.

While we may still be in a wait-and-see mode, it does seem inevitable that SFO and other airports will soon to need to deal with the reality of cannabis-consuming travelers. Let’s just hope that Cinnabon can handle what’s coming.

Have you traveled from SFO to another destination with cannabis since Proposition 64 passed? What was your experience like? Chem Tales would love to hear from you! Email your stories to All exchanges are anonymous and off-the-record unless clearly stated otherwise.

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