With constantly shifting guidelines and laws that differ both federally and state-to-state, the prospect of moving with marijuana can be quite the head trip. Reports Hire A Helper
The list of cannabis-friendly states is getting longer by the day. But even if you’re moving from, say, California to Oregon or within Colorado – states where recreational weed is legal – there are still rules and regulations you need to be aware of if you want to avoid potential felony charges.
That’s scary phrasing for sure — I’m in a full sweat just writing it — but don’t panic! A safe, legal, and (mostly) stress-free move with marijuana is possible while we wait for nationwide legalization. The trick is knowing what to look out for. Here’s your comprehensive guide to moving with marijuana.
How are we defining “marijuana”?
There are a lot of different words for the same things, but here’s how the government thinks of it.
Ultimately, we’re talking about transporting what’s currently defined federally as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, which could put you on the hook for confiscation, fines, or even criminal prosecution.
“The government regulates any product with THC levels above 0.3%.”
So let’s break down what that means. “Marijuana” is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant. It’s made up of many compounds that don’t get you high, and one that does: tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This is the element of the plant that the law is most interested in. The government regulates any product with THC levels above 0.3%. (Which explains why you’re able to purchase low-THC CBD or CBD isolate in some areas where weed isn’t yet legal.)
What about oils or edibles?
Much higher levels of THC occur naturally in the Cannabis plant, which can be processed into three main products – flower or fruit, resin, and oil – that can be smoked, vaped, or cooked into food products and consumed as what are called “edibles”. And even though all these forms are different, encompassing myriad indica, sativa, and hybrid strains, once you cross that 0.3% THC mark, they all fall under the same umbrella of legality or illegality, depending on the area.
That means no matter the potency of your product, and whether you’re traveling with gummies, a vape pen, processed flower, or even the living plants themselves, in the eyes of the law, you are officially Moving With Marijuana™.
Where is recreational marijuana legal in 2021?
In an ideal world, you’re over the age of 21 and transporting an amount of pot that’s for your own use, within one of the 16 states or Washington, D.C. where recreational marijuana is fully legalized. As of this writing, that’s:
*Note: South Dakota’s weed-legalization legislation is currently facing legal challenges, because no list in this article can be simple.
(New Mexico and Virginia have approved legislation, and will join this list later in 2021, on June 29 and July 1, respectively.)
Assuming you’re of age and moving from a city in one of the above states to somewhere else within the same state, you have very little to worry about—as long as the amount you’re carrying is below state limits (in California, for example, that means under an ounce), and you stay off the interstate highways. (Much more on that later.)
Where is medical marijuana legal in 2021?
Upping the difficulty ante slightly, there are an additional 18 states where only medical marijuana use has been legalized:
(Mississippians have also voted to establish a medical marijuana program, but that legislation is still pending.)
If you’re moving within one of those states and are discovered to have any weed on your person, you’ll be asked to present your medical marijuana patient card.
What does that mean for the remaining states?
Anyone who’s kept their fast math skills sharpened will have realized that there are 13 states we haven’t touched on yet, where marijuana remains entirely illegal:
You might think that as long as you aren’t moving into or through one of those states, that you’re sitting pretty. But unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
What are the differences between state and federal regulations?
The whole reason I’m going to the trouble to list the legal requirements out state-by-state is because marijuana has not been federally legalized in the United States. That means that any areas controlled by the federal government — which includes interstate highways and state borders — consider weed an illegal drug on par with substances like heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine.
When you transport a Schedule I substance across state lines, you become a literal drug trafficker in the eyes of the law. (That’s a pretty intense career change for someone with half a bag of pink lemonade edibles in their glove compartment.)
“…marijuana has not been federally legalized in the United States.”
You might just get a slap on the wrist from state officers depending on the quantity, your criminal history, and the reason behind the stop. But the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is equipped to mete out maximum penalties of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for anyone transporting less than 50kg of marijuana—even for a first-time offense.
Which is why I’m going to say this one more time: interstate highways and state borders fall under federal jurisdiction.
You could still find yourself dealing with Big Daddy DEA, even with a medical marijuana card at the ready, and even if you’re still within the state that issued it. If you only take one message away from this post, please for the sake of my sanity, let it be that one.
What about transporting marijuana for business purposes?
It’s important to note that everything we’ve discussed so far above moving with weed applies specifically to individuals. If you’re the owner of a cannabis-related business, you’ll almost certainly need a license to transport marijuana, even within your state. (And naturally, such licenses are available only within states that have legalized weed.)
To get your license, and to get information on other state-by-state transportation requirements you’ll need to adhere to, contact your state’s licensing authorities.
Moving companies and marijuana
Moving companies have certain items they aren’t willing to move for customers; a list that often includes stuff like plants or animals, perishable food items (which rules out edibles), or anything flammable. And while most moving companies don’t have a stated policy about moving illegal drugs, we can use common sense to assume they aren’t super psyched at the thought of breaking the law for you. Especially because many companies are strict about asking customers not to pack legal and prescription drugs, in case you end up needing quick access during a move.
So even if the company you move with doesn’t have a written policy, remember to use your best judgment when deciding whether to involve a business entity.
Is it safe to cross international lines with marijuana?
All I can say about this is please don’t do it. While highway patrol officers and state border agents need probable cause to conduct a search, international border patrol officers do not. They can go through your vehicle with a fine-toothed comb, search you personally, and even check your social media accounts, all on the basis of finding you “suspicious”.
“…Interstate highways and state borders fall under federal jurisdiction.”
If they find drugs or even drug paraphernalia, you’ll almost certainly face penalties both at home and abroad, and it’s not uncommon to be permanently denied entry to the country based on a single violation. So basically, just skip it. Moving is stressful enough without getting involved in international intrigue.
Realistically, how can I balance out the risks?
Because the worst-case scenario is so freaking dire here, the goal when moving with marijuana is to use a mix of common sense and rule-bending. In theory, this should be pretty straightforward, as most state and federal officers have better things to do than to pull people over and dig through their boxes in hopes of finding a small amount of weed.
If you are transporting marijuana across state lines, there’s no way to completely eliminate the risks. But you can balance them out with some accompanying precautions like the ones below:
- Avoid interstate highways wherever possible, especially if you’re driving your own vehicle through a state where weed is illegal, and it has plates from a cannabis-friendly state
- Drive legally, safely, and within the speed limit. That means wearing your seatbelt, making sure your license and registration are up to date, and checking that your brake lights and taillights are in good working condition
- Stick with edibles, if you can, to cut down on odors, and don’t smoke before or during your drive (duh). That last one feels obvious, but it bears repeating: If an officer pulls you over for an unrelated violation but smells weed in the car or on your person, that gives them probable cause for a search
- If you are traveling with flower, pack it carefully within several layers of odor-cutting plastic or other materials. (This post recommends a food sealer and Mylar or odor-proof bags lined with activated carbon.) Then, store your stash in a difficult-to-access box with the rest of your items, instead of somewhere reachable in the cab of the moving truck or within your own vehicle—areas officers are trained to search
Across the board, your best option is probably to smoke ‘em if you got ‘em before setting out on your move, and then legally purchase more once you reach your destination.
But obviously, there are quite a few instances where that isn’t possible. So in those situations, just remember to avoid as many risks as you can, and to take precautions to balance out the ones you can’t.