Now that recreational cannabis is legal to buy, sell, possess and use across Illinois, travelers are asking the obvious question: can you fly out of Chicago airports with weed? There are a couple twists and turns to the answer, but the bottom line is this: yes, you can fly out of Chicago airports like Midway and O’Hare with weed. And in fact, while being caught with weed will definitely slow you down, there’s ultimately nothing anyone can do to stop you from boarding a plane with your stash in hand—or in your carry-on.
There’s Nothing Anyone Can Do to Stop You From Flying Out of Chicago with Weed
Commander William Mullane heads up the Chicago Police Department staff at Chicago’s airports. Speaking at a small press conference in a terminal at O’Hare ahead of the implementation of the state’s recreational marijuana law on January 1, Mullane explained how legalization would impact airport travelers.
Mullane began by reiterating that the ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis makes it illegal under federal law to possess any amount of cannabis. Federal law also prohibits the transportation of any amount of cannabis across state lines. Federal marijuana law matters because the federal government regulates air space over the U.S., not individual states.
So what happens, then, if you show up to O’Hare or Midway with weed on you?
In the first place, TSA isn’t looking out for or searching for cannabis. They’re tasked with identifying security and safety threats, not finding drugs. But as Mullane explained, if a TSA agent does happen to discover cannabis on a traveler or in their belongings, they must contact Chicago airport police.
Next, officers will respond and examine the “totality of the circumstances,” meaning the age of the traveler and whether or not the cannabis they have on them exceeds Illinois’ legal possession limits. Those limits are 30 grams for Illinois residents 21 and over, and 15 grams for non-residents.
And if the police who respond determine that the traveler is within legal limits for possessing cannabis in Illinois, then there’s nothing they can do to stop that traveler from proceeding to their flight and their destination.
In other words, even though it would technically be a violation of federal law to board a flight with your weed, it wouldn’t be a violation of Illinois state law, so Chicago police could not stop you.
O’Hare and Midway Airports Providing “Marijuana Amnesty” Boxes for Disposal
Instead of preventing passengers carrying weed from boarding their flights—which again, they can’t do—Chicago police are giving travelers a choice. Either they can continue on their merry way, or dispose of their cannabis in specialized “marijuana amnesty” boxes.
Both O’Hare and Midway airports in Chicago now have marijuana amnesty boxes in their terminals for travelers who wish to dispose of their weed before boarding their flight.
If police stop a traveler to check whether they lawfully possess cannabis, they will offer that traveler the choice of disposing of their weed or keeping it and going on their way.
But Chicago police cannot require you to dispose of your weed in Chicago airports. Because again, you’re not doing anything wrong.
Still, the amnesty boxes might be a safe option for travelers flying out of Chicago to destination states where cannabis is illegal. But if a traveler were flying to, say, Los Angeles, they would both take off and land in weed-legal states, and only have to worry about federal law enforcement en route. It’s still a risk, but as we’ve covered before, it’s a relatively small one.
So at the end of the day, if you’re within your legal rights to possess weed in Illinois, you can absolutely fly out of Chicago airports with your stash. And while TSA and Chicago police may stop to verify you, there’s nothing they can do to stop you from flying or force you to dispose of your cannabis.
Of course, Chicago Police aren’t encouraging travelers to bring weed through the airport. But they’ve acknowledged there’s nothing they can do to stop it from happening.