It now seems almost inevitable that medical marijuana will be legalized throughout the United States in the not-too-distant future. For one thing, in 33 of our 50 states it is already legal to use marijuana for medical purposes (even recreational marijuana is now legal in 10 states). For another, statistics demonstrate that an increasing number of individuals with serious and often fatal diseases respond well to the use of medical marijuana.
In the Meantime
Now that so many states have legalized medical marijuana, it is no longer necessary for individuals suffering from symptoms medical cannabis can help to send relatives to the seedy side of town to “score” some illegal marijuana since in states that have legalized medical marijuana there are now legal dispensaries. Patients also do not have to smoke marijuana in order to reap its benefits since the drug is available in other forms. This is beneficial because  smoking is associated with other medical hazards and  for some patients, “smoking pot” has negative connotations.
What Is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the component of cannabis that results in exhilaration (the sensation of being “high”). In some states, low-THC marijuana is available, meaning that patients can self-medicate without feeling high, spacy, drowsy or disoriented in order to obtain relief. It should be noted, however, that some disease symptoms are aided by the THC in the drug, so marijuana for patients suffering with these symptoms must contain a high percentage of the ingredient. It is essential to know whether you are taking low-THC or high-THC cannabis.
Some Illnesses Marijuana Benefits
Patients with multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, cancer, dementia, glaucoma, arthritis, PTSD, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) — all have reported, depending on the nature of their illness, less pain, less spasticity, less cramping and diarrhea, less anxiety, fewer seizures, easier mobility — in general a greater sense of well-being and enjoyment of life. Medical marijuana has also proven very effective in calming patients as they go through end-of-life suffering, making their transition much more bearable.
Traveling with Marijuana
Patients like those with conditions mentioned above do not, unless bedridden, have to stay in one place. They will, for a variety of reasons, be traveling — to the doctor, the store, school, a friend’s house, a restaurant, a movie theatre, or a place of business. They may be driving or riding in a friend or family member’s car, a rideshare vehicle, or any of a number of types of public transportation. In any case, since they are not always at home when they require medical treatment, they have to know the answer to the following question: Can you travel with medical marijuana?
The answer has to be Yes because otherwise, medical marijuana would only offer patients symptom relief at the price of virtual imprisonment. If fact, all but the most severely ill of those taking medical marijuana, travel without legal interference. They, like you, just have to be careful.
Beware: Federal Law Still Defines Marijuana as an Illegal Drug
Despite medical evidence to the contrary, federal law continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Schedule 1 drugs are defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” It is important to be aware that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and carries significant penalties. In most circumstances, however, you can avoid coming to the attention of federal authorities. Care must be taken, especially if you are traveling to a state that has not legalized marijuana or are involved in international travel.
Even in states in which medical marijuana is legal, physicians can only recommend its use; they are not permitted to prescribe it, since that would be a violation of federal law. It’s important to understand that you (the patient) although you may live in a state that allows the use of medical marijuana, will be violating federal law when you do so. This is certainly a strange contradiction, but you should be aware that if you end up in a federal courtroom for any reason, your attorney will not be able to offer a medical defense for your use or possession of medical marijuana.
Ways Around the Problem
A great many patients throughout the country (over a million) use medical marijuana on a regular basis. Clearly they have learned how to purchase and use, as well as travel with, an adequate supply, without getting into trouble with the law.
Depending on the laws of your particular state, you may or may not be allowed to possess high-THC cannabis in public places, so if you are medicating with this type of marijuana you have to be extra-careful regarding where you self-administer this medication.
Traveling by Car with Medical Marijuana
First, remember that you cannot be under the influence of medical marijuana while driving. This means you should wait several hours after a dose to operate a motor vehicle, regardless of its THC content. Second, keep your cannabis enclosed in the trunk or some other inaccessible place so any law enforcement officer who pulls you over for a traffic infraction will not immediately doubt your sobriety. Can You Get in Trouble for Driving While High on Marijuana?
In some states, like Florida, as long as you have legally purchased your medical marijuana from a licensed dispensary, you are permitted to medicate with low-THC in public places. Public places include cars, boats, and public transportation.
Traveling by Plane with Medical Marijuana
As far as commercial airlines are concerned, planes are under federal jurisdiction so flying with any form of marijuana, medical or not, remains illegal. This makes plane travel very tricky for patients who use medical marijuana. While it is generally understood that TSA agents at airports do not proactively search for drugs, either in suitcases that will be stowed or in carry-on bags, you should still remember that if they find a bag of marijuana they are required to call law enforcement.
Depending on which state an airport is in, you may be permitted to board with the medication or required to dispose of it before boarding. In a state with particularly strict regulations against drug possession, you may actually be arrested and/or have your medication confiscated.
International travel makes you even more vulnerable since some countries have truly Draconian laws relative to possession of marijuana. The takeaway here is it that it is never entirely safe to travel by air with medical marijuana. If you feel you must do so, you should research the laws in the pertinent states and airports and, especially if traveling internationally, consult with a criminal defense attorney well-schooled in this branch of the law.
Some Places to Avoid Medicating with Marijuana
As part of being careful about where you medicate with marijuana, you should leave 1500 feet between yourself and any school, daycare center, correctional institution, park or any place considered a Drug-Free Zone. You don’t want to make a mistake about this rule since if you have the misfortune to be brought to a federal court for any reason, your maximum sentence can then be doubled.
Ways to Be Safe
There are several ways to protect yourself if you are using medical cannabis away from home. You should make absolutely sure that you:
- Obtain a Patient Registry Card
- Don’t alter your Patient Registry Card in any way
- Carry the smallest amount of marijuana possible
- Make sure to store high-THC medical cannabis out of your reach in your car
- Research the laws in your state and in any states or countries you travel to
- Don’t lend you Patient Registry Card to anyone else for any reason
Also, make sure you do not travel with a marijuana plant, smoke marijuana or medicate with high-THC marijuana in public or on public transportation in any state you visit.
Don’t Put Your Medical Marijuana Recommendation in Jeopardy
If you give misleading or fraudulent information about your marijuana usage to the Department of Health, the department may suspend or revoke your registration or your doctor’s. Also, you should know that your doctor has the right to revoke your patient certification for cannabis for any reason, so keep the lines of communication open and comply with any rules stated by your physician.
Your Goal Should Be Your Own Health and Preserving the Health Rights of Others
If you are traveling with medical marijuana, be cautious and wise. Make sure to follow the regulation closely. You certainly don’t want to put your health and comfort at risk; nor do you want to jeopardize the rights of other patients to receive the help they need.