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What You Need To Know Before Traveling With Cannabis

Your medical cannabis card identifies and verifies you as a medical cannabis patient in your home state, but what happens when you head out of town? 

“The issues for patients are endless – not being able to travel with medicine affects everything from visiting family, to employment, to taking a vacation,” Debbie Churgai, Executive Director for Americans for Safe Access, shared with Ethos Cannabis.

If you’re planning to travel out of state for any reason – or even to a different part of your state – it’s important that you know the laws of your destination and any place you’re traveling through on your way there. Where can you take your cannabis, and what do you need to know before you go?

Can you travel within the same state with your medical cannabis?

In short, yes. Your medical cannabis card is recognized as a valid government document on the state level – just be sure to respect local laws regarding its use, transportation, and storage, if there are any.

“In some states, policy can vary county by county,” Churgai said. 

The mode of transportation within the state matters, too. For example, if you’re flying from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, the airline you’re flying may have specific rules against traveling with medical cannabis, even though a Pennsylvania medical cannabis patient is allowed to carry cannabis between these two cities. Additionally, the law enforcement body which oversees each airport may have different guidelines about how to handle cannabis, although airport security does not actively search for cannabis before you board a flight. However, if you’re driving, you’re less likely to run into these issues – just be sure to follow your state’s laws about driving with medical cannabis in the car.

Can you travel out of state with your medical cannabis?

In short, no. There are no federal protections for medical cannabis patients traveling with their medicine from one state to the other. How that plays out depends greatly on the mode of transportation and the laws in the state you’re visiting, but the risk is simply not worth it.

Before embarking on a trip, keep in mind the policies of the state you’re visiting, the method of transportation you’re using, and the policy of the company that runs the airplane, train, bus, rideshare, or whatever other transportation you’re riding. While some states may be OK with you traveling to their state with your medical cannabis, the law enforcement that governs the crossings between these states may not. This patchwork system, coupled with the lack of federal protections, can make it difficult to discern precisely what is allowed and what isn’t. This is why groups like Americans for Safe Access recommend that patients do not take medical cannabis products out of the state in which they were purchased.

What should you do if you can’t travel with your cannabis?

To avoid violating any laws or policies while traveling, you may want to consider purchasing cannabis products at your destination. Depending on the state, these purchases can be made through the state’s adult use program or through its medical cannabis program.

If you’re a patient aged 21 or older visiting an adult-use state, you can buy cannabis at any recreational dispensary. However, this is not always ideal, as you may rely on a certain product that’s unavailable in another state’s adult use dispensary. You may also never have visited an adult use dispensary before and may not know what to expect. This is also an issue for caregivers of minor patients, who cannot buy adult use products and administer them to someone under 21.

“Some people assume that a patient can walk into a dispensary and buy any product, but that’s far from the case – patients have very specific needs on product type and method of administration,” Churgai said. “The state a patient is visiting may not have the product they need.” 

In these cases, Churgai recommends that patients call ahead to dispensaries in the state they’re visiting to inquire about available products.

“It’s important for patients to know what’s in stock before they travel,” Churgai said.

Some states with medical cannabis programs have special provisions called reciprocity, which means that the state you’re visiting recognizes your out-of-state medical cannabis card, and it can be used to shop at medical dispensaries there. However, Churgai said reciprocity is not an option in every medical cannabis state, and the laws regarding reciprocity can vary greatly between states that allow it. It’s also important to point out, Churgai said, that out-of-state patient purchase limits may be lower than what in-state patients can buy. Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, home to Ethos Cannabis dispensaries, do not have reciprocity programs.

Some states, like Maryland, offer a visiting patient program, which allow you to obtain a medical cannabis card issued by that state for the duration of your stay. This is an alternative to reciprocity in some locales, but the process is imperfect: you still need to be certified by a doctor in that state and then wait for your card to be issued. 

Best practices for traveling with your medical cannabis

  • Carry your medical cannabis card with you at all times. Your card is your “license” to purchase, carry, and use medical cannabis in the state of issuance. Keep it with you like you would your driver’s license and other key documentation. Always make sure it’s up to date before traveling. Churgai also recommends keeping a copy of your doctor’s recommendation with you.
  • Keep your cannabis in its original packaging. Carry your product in the packaging it came in from the dispensary in the event that your purchase needs to be verified by law enforcement or another body.
  • Don’t buy extra if you’re shopping out of state. Leftover product should not be brought home with you. Only buy the amount you need during your trip.
  • If you’re driving, keep your cannabis in the trunk of your vehicle. Churgai recommends this additional precautionary measure, as certain states require this provision.
  • Read up on the law. The regulations surrounding medical cannabis are constantly shifting, and you may have outdated information on hand. Make sure to consult the Department of Health in the state to which you’re traveling for the most up to date regulations that can affect your travels. 

Traveling with cannabis: know before you go

The regulations surrounding cannabis are constantly shifting, with each state and even areas within a particular state holding different policies. As you pack your bags, brush up on the laws in the state to which you’re traveling. Consult The Medical Cannabis Patient’s Guide for U.S. Travel, assembled and maintained by Americans for Safe Access, for more information.

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