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Despite prevalence, CBD still illegal for DOD members

FORT LEE, Va. – “Regardless of its widespread availability, it’s a federally prohibited substance and, therefore, illegal within the DOD workforce,” stated Katina Oates, the Army Substance Abuse Program manager here.

Her remark is in reference to products containing cannabidiol extract, or CBD, which have exploded in popularity as a result of aggressive civilian advertising that touts their benefits as pain relievers, stress reducers, depression inhibitors and more.

“CBD is everywhere,” a recently released Army News article pointed out. “You would be hard-pressed to enter any pharmacy, mega-mart or health food store and not find it on the shelves. CBD can even be purchased online from the comfort of your couch.”

Hemp oil and cannabidiol are one in the same. The array of delivery methods include, but are not limited to, gummy chews, cigarettes and vape pens, oils and skin creams, and sleep medications. CBD is frequently used in personal care treatments at nail salons and by some massage therapists.

“Military members should not confuse the prevalence of such products with their legality,” Oates said. “Soldiers are prohibited from using hemp products of any sort, whether or not they have been legalized in certain jurisdictions.”

Due to CBD being both unregulated and often containing small amounts of THC, the DOD still considers it to be an “illicit drug,” and its use as unauthorized by service members and government civilians, the Army News article warned.

An excerpt from Army Regulation 600-85, dated July 23, 2020, reads as follows: “The use of products made or derived from hemp (as defined in 7 USC. 1639o) … regardless of the product’s THC concentration, claimed or actual, and regardless of whether such product may lawfully be bought, sold and used under the law applicable to civilians, is prohibited.”

The other uniformed services have similar regulations prohibiting CBD’s use. There are federal workforce restrictions that apply to government civilians as well – further details are available on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website, samhsa.gov.

According to CBD-product manufacturers, the key hemp-plant-based ingredient is “non-psychoactive,” which means the consumer won’t experience the “high” of typical THC found in cannabis. The disparity in that claim, from the DOD’s perspective, is found in the federal guidelines that say a product is federally legal if it contains less than 0.3 percent Tetrahydrocannabinol, meaning the THC is still present.

The market also has been largely unregulated, so nobody can say whether ingredient labels are true to actual cannabis levels. In a recent study of 84 CBD products, 69 percent had higher levels of cannabiol than specified.

Furthermore, with no Federal Drug Administration oversight of the production of CBD products, “there is an increased risk of potential injury related to ingesting potential molds, pesticides and heavy metals,” the Army News article advised.

As for the number of aches and ailments the oil is said to decrease, there is little scientific evidence to support it, according to the popular health information website webmd.com. However, research into hemp-derived medication continues to increase following the FDA’s approval of the CBD drug Epidiolex for the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy, Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome.

“Summing up this discussion, I think it’s all about informing our military community about these products and asking them to be mindful of their potential impact on someone’s career,” Oates said.

“Given the DOD and Army’s stance on this subject,” she continued, “there is no room for interpretation if it causes someone to test positive during a random drug test. Think of it as a health issue as well. Part of my office’s responsibility is to inform the community about the risk of using a chemical substance that could be harmful because it lacks oversight and full FDA approval.”

What will TSA actually do with your weed if you’re traveling between two states where it’s legal?

FILE – A TSA employee searches the luggage of a United Airlines passenger at a security checkpoint at San Francisco International Airport on Aug. 10, 2006. TSA officers are required to report any suspected violations of law, including possession of marijuana and cannabis infused products. While they don’t search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, in the event they find an illegal substance, they will refer the matter to a police officer to enforce state law.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Show More Show Less

Denny sits for portrait during narcotics K-9 training at the Oakland International Airport on Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. The dogs and the handlers are training to spot many types of drugs, excluding marijuana. Amid legalization of marijuana, California’s current pot-sniffing K-9s face retirement.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle Show More Show Less

5 of 60 Bob Burns was the wit behind TSA’s Instagram account, before he passed away in 2018. He had been working with TSA since 2002 and was largely responsible for its social media presence. He posted photos of items that people tried to take through TSA checkpoints and failed miserably. Here are a number of recent ones, with his commentary. TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

7 of 60 TSA: “We need to talk about your flare. If you want to express yourself, this is the wrong kind of flare. You need flair. 37 pieces to be exact. … This flare gun was discovered in a carry-on bag at Honolulu (HNL). Flare guns are only permitted in checked bags without the flares.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

8 of 60 TSA: “9 out of 10 dentists recommend not hiding knives in toothbrush handles. This small pocketknife was discovered inside the taped handle of a toothbrush at Cleveland (CLE).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

10 of 60 TSA: “A Milwaukee (MKE) traveler found himself behind the eight ball after this concealed knife was discovered in his pool cue. All knives are prohibited, and concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest. #Scratch” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

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11 of 60 TSA: “Satan’s fidget spinner was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV). While normal #FidgetSpinners are permitted, this one is a weapon.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

13 of 60 TSA: “This traveler must have been under the impression that they’d have to blaze a trail to get to their gate at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

14 of 60 TSA: “I’m guessing you pull the pin to get it to walk? Inert grenades, real grenades or anything resembling a grenade is prohibited altogether from being brought on a plane. This grenade creature was discovered in a carry-on bag at Albuquerque (ABQ).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

16 of 60 TSA: “This gives ‘protection’ a whole new meaning. However, fines stink, and concealed items such as this knife in a deodorant container can lead to a fine and even an arrest. Don’t sweat it; just pack your knife in your checked bag. Also, stick deodorant (without a knife) is permitted in carry-on bags in any amount. It’s the liquid, gel and aerosol deodorant that must adhere to our liquid rules. This was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Bradley International Airport.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

17 of 60 TSA: “Foiled again! Some are under the impression that tinfoil can make things invisible. #Nope This knife was discovered in carry-on bag wrapped in foil at Houston (HOU).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

19 of 60 TSA: “‘Paging Davy Crocket to the security desk…’ This powder horn full of black powder was discovered in a checked bag at Boise (BOI). Black powder is an explosive and is strictly prohibited in both carry-on and checked bags.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

20 of 60 TSA: “We’ve got nothing against propane and propane accessories, but dang it, Bobby, you can’t pack two propane tanks in your checked bags. Propane has a propensity to explode and is prohibited all together from air travel. These were discovered at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

22 of 60 TSA: No. Unga bunga. Ooog smork nag gralk. (Please pack in checked bag.)” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

23 of 60 TSA: “This inert explosives training aid was brought through the checkpoint at Columbia (CAE). It wasn’t an in-house test; it was left in the carry-on bag of a traveling soldier who said he uses it as a training aid. It hasn’t been confirmed yet whether or not the X-ray operator needed a stiff drink after their shift . Even though it’s inert, it’s prohibited due to the fact that it looks so realistic.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

25 of 60 TSA: “Apparently, even rocket scientists have trouble packing their bags. This model rocket and engines were discovered recently in a checked bag at Greenville (PGV). All rocket engines are prohibited in both carry-on and checked baggage.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

26 of 60 TSA: “According to Wikipedia, the M224 60 mm Lightweight Mortar is a smooth bore, muzzle-loading, high-angle-of-fire weapon used for close-in support of ground troops. #ProTip – Even though they were unloaded, you can’t declare and check mortar tubes with your checked bags as you would with firearms. This one was discovered at the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport in Guam (GUM).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

28 of 60 TSA: “This replica of @AMCTheWalkingDead’s “Lucille” was discovered recently in a carry-on bag at Atlanta (ATL). The barbed wire is actually made from rubber and the blood is fake (we hope). However, baseball bats are prohibited from carry-on bags and must be packed in checked luggage. #TWD #Negan We’re just glad Lucille wasn’t thirsty.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

29 of 60 TSA: “This gives ‘photo shoot’ an entirely different meaning. The camera was fine as a carry-on, but due to its similarity to a firearm, the handle/grip/trigger mechanism needed to be placed in a checked bag. This was discovered in a carry-on bag at LaGuardia (LGA).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

31 of 60 TSA: “While good food can be scarce on an aircraft, there’s no need to resort to the hunger games. This collapsible bow and arrows were discovered in a carry-on bag at Chicago O’Hare (ORD)” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

32 of 60 TSA: “This wasn’t prohibited, but when an actual lunar sample comes through a TSA checkpoint, you’ve got to mention it! @NASA Exhibits Specialist John Oldham was happy to let our Dane County (MSN) officers and fellow travelers take a closer look at the rock. The sample was collected during the #Apollo15 mission in 1971. It was the first mission to use the Lunar Roving Vehicle and 170 pounds of lunar surface material was collected and brought back to earth. #NASA rocks!” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

34 of 60 TSA: “This is an oldie but a goody. These shotgun shell Christmas lights were discovered back in December of 2012 in a carry-on bag at the Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). All ammunition whether real or replica is prohibited from being transported in carry-on bags. This traveler wasn’t up to anything malicious, so they likely still made Santa’s nice list that year.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

35 of 60 TSA: “Newark (EWR) traveler attempted to take their hoe on the plane. If you need to travel with your gardening hoe, it’ll have to go in your checked bag.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

37 of 60 TSA: “A box of festively wrapped heroin was discovered in a checked bag at Los Angeles (LAX). This is an example of why our officers have to open gifts at times. They don’t enjoy it, but if there’s an anomaly inside, they have to check it out. We’re not looking for drugs, but in this case, it was nothing but drugs. When narcotics are discovered, our officers must notify the police.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

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38 of 60 TSA “This pair of disgruntled throwing knives are throwin’ some serious shade at their owner for packing them in a carry-on bag. All knives must be packed in checked bags. These were discovered at Chicago O’Hare (ORD).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

40 of 60 TSA: “If you’re looking for that stunning shade of lipstick, this bejeweled stun gun disguised as lipstick might just do the trick. It’s sending shockwaves through the fashion community. It was discovered in a carry-on bag at Baltimore (BWI).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

41 of 60 TSA: “What you’ve got here is a one-pound container of gun powder. It was discovered in a traveler’s checked bag at Anchorage (ANC). Powdered Eggs?…Protien Powder?…Powdered Peanut Butter?…Gun Powder❌ #Nope” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

43 of 60 TSA: “Oooooh! Ahhhhh! It’s that time of year again where we remind everybody that fireworks and firecrackers are not allowed in carry-on or checked bags. These were all discovered recently at Houston (IAH) and Wichita (ICT). #Fireworks” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

44 of 60 TSA: “Elementary, my dear Watson. Some people need a little help when they’re on their feet, but in order to bring a mobility aid onto an aircraft, it cannot double as a deadly sword or immobilizing stun gun. Most people do not realize they have a sword in their cane. Best to check. From left to right, these sword canes and stun cane were discovered in traveler’s carry-on property at Ft. Lauderdale (FLL), Phoenix (PHX), and Salt Lake City (SLC).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

46 of 60 TSA: “There’s a modern convenience in aircraft today called the overhead light that negates bringing fueled up lanterns on the aircraft. As you guessed, fueled up lanterns are not allowed in carry-on or checked bags. The only way this lantern would be permitted is if it was empty and had no traces of fuel at all. This was discovered in a traveler’s carry-on property at the San Diego International Airport (SAN).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

47 of 60 TSA: “This weapon will not only help you defend yourself against Orcs, but it also allows you to butter two slices of toast at the same time! This one was discovered in a carry-on bag at Chicago Midway (MDW). Please pack items such as this in your checked bags.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

49 of 60 TSA: “Why does this gigantic teddy bear look so sad? He was abandoned by his owners at LAX after the airline and TSA determined that he was just too big to be screened as a carry-on and taken on the plane. (UPDATE) After watching a YouTube video posted by the traveler, we’ve learned that he’s a popular YouTuber and this was a stunt to see if he could get the giant bear on the plane. . (He) had actually bought a ticket for the bear. After the airline and TSA decided the bear was too large, the airline offered to refund the ticket and the traveler was given the option of checking the bear as checked baggage. The traveler opted not to check the bear and left it behind.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

50 of 60 TSA: “Sometimes prohibited items write their own captions. Knives of any size are not allowed in carry-on bags. Please pack them in your checked bags. This knife was discovered in a carry-on bag at LaGuardia (LGA).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

52 of 60 TSA: I’m not sure why you’d bring this into the cabin of an aircraft. I mean… if there is a bear on the plane, he bought a ticket same as you. Would you want a bear to walk up to your seat and spray you with mace? Doubtful… Now if you’re out in the forest and he’s trying to steal your pic-a-nic basket, that’s a different story. All varieties of mace are not allowed in carry-on property. Mace can be packed in checked baggage, but bear mace canisters usually exceed the allowable volume of less than four ounces. it also must have less than a two percent active ingredient of either CS or CN. It’s best to purchase the bear mace at your destination. This canister of mace was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Seattle – Tacoma International Airport (SEA).” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

53 of 60 TSA: “Holy cow! This cattle prod was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Chicago Midway (MDW) Airport. All shocking devices, especially cattle prods, are not allowed in carry-on bags. Please pack them in your checked bags with the batteries removed.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

56 of 60 TSA: This should spark some conversation. It’s a mobility device. It’s a self-defense weapon. It’s not allowed in your carry-on property because it delivers 1,000,000 volts! Shocking, we know. This was discovered recently in a traveler’s carry-on property at the Kahului.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

58 of 60 TSA: “Just as Batman had to lecture Boy Wonder about fastening his bat-belt, we find ourselves once again reminding readers that Batarangs are not allowed in carry-on bags. These were discovered in a carry-on bag at the Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL). #BOOM #CLASH #KABAM” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

59 of 60 TSA: “Talk about throwing a wrench into your travel plans… This monkey/grasshopper wrench was discovered in a traveler’s carry-on bag at the Will Rogers World Airport (OKC) in Oklahoma. Tools over 7” must be packed in checked baggage.” TSA/Instagram Show More Show Less

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The circumstances were perfect: I was meeting up with one of my best friends from college for our first visit to Portland, Ore., and held the eager anticipation of what kind of antics we would get into during the exciting weekend ahead. Yet, preparing for this short vacation led me to Google something I’ve never searched for before:

Is it legal to bring marijuana on a plane from one state to another if it’s considered legal in both states?

Most websites’ answers were a resounding, seemingly obvious “no.” Go ahead, laugh at my naivety all you want. But after spending most of my life in the Midwest where recreational marijuana legalization seemed to be a far-off pipe dream, I honestly didn’t have a clue. Nor did I think it was a question I would ever have the opportunity to ask.

Sure, I knew I could just buy whatever I wanted when I arrived in Portland, but after spending money on plane tickets, a few nights’ stay in a hostel, and knowing I had other pending expenses ahead, I didn’t want to drop even more cash on something I already had – legally.

I even took to Reddit to ask people on r/trees (a go-to subreddit for everything related to cannabis with over 1.3 million subscribers). Most of the responses there ranged from caring – “I wouldn’t risk it, your weed will be waiting for you when you get back home :)” – to curt – “good luck getting caught and going to jail LOL.”

So, I went the safe route and left my edible gummies I was planning on bringing at my apartment and begrudgingly purchased more when I got to Portland. Still, I knew I wasn’t the only one questioning this legality. Whether you’re traveling to Portland like I was, or other big cities where recreational marijuana is legal – say, Seattle, Denver, Las Vegas, or Boston – it seems contradictory to have to leave your cannabis products at home when the law is giving you the green light in both your own city and destination.

That’s not to mention medical patients who need certain strains in order to combat chronic pain or alleviate symptoms of an illness. It was simple for me to just leave my weed at home, but what about patients for whom stopping usage can be detrimental to their health and well-being?

Long after I returned from the trip, I had the answer to my question, but still wanted the details. Are CBD products okay at airports? Is a TSA dog really going to sniff me out? Jenny L. Burke from the Transportation Security Administration provided me with some answers that might help you on your next journey.

The short answer:

As soon as you head into that airport, marijuana is considered a controlled substance and is therefore illegal from a federal perspective.

So, carrying a joint through the TSA checkpoint at a California airport is illegal?

Yes – but that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get in trouble if you get caught. TSA says that officers are required to report “any suspected violations of law, including possession of marijuana and cannabis infused products.” That being said, your weed likely isn’t their priority – the safety of everyone else is. TSA’s screening procedures are security-focused and designed to look for “potential threats” to aviation and passengers.

What about my CBD oil that I use for pain relief?

Yup, still illegal according to TSA guidelines. Again, they’re not looking for it though.

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What if I just kept my marijuana or CBD-infused products in my checked luggage?

This is also illegal in the eyes of the (federal) law which governs airports, and you don’t want to mess with the random searches that TSA conducts. Still, the searches there prioritize heavy metal objects and bottles full of liquid – frequent suspicious objects that call for further inspection, again, for security reasons.

Do TSA dogs sniff for weed?

No. While some people think airport sniffer dogs will seek out illegal drugs, they’re predominantly trained to sniff for explosives, and to sniff for things that could introduce an invasive species into a foreign ecosystem. There’s more to it, though. Some dogs are trained to sniff for many drugs, but recent state court rulings on marijuana mean their keen noses for pot are no longer needed. They would return false positives on their work sniffing for other (illegal) drugs. They can’t always be counted on to smell the right thing, and some are actually being eased out of the labor force because of this.

The bottom line:

TSA officers are required to report any suspected violations of law, including possession of marijuana and cannabis infused products. While they don’t search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, in the event they find an illegal substance, they will refer the matter to a police officer to enforce state law. So, if you’re in a state where cannabis is legal, local officers are not likely to do anything, even as federal possession laws apply – as long as you don’t have eight pounds of weed chocolate.

It’s up to you to decide whether to play it safe or be a little daring, but you’re likely under less scrutiny than you might have previously perceived. Safe travels!