Tips for flying with medical cannabis

UPDATE: 10/05/2017 — The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has updated their policy. Click this link for more information. 

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UPDATE: 10/13/2016 — The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has updated their policy to explicitly outline procedure for medical cannabis patients. Click this link for more information. 


It’s legal for patients to travel with their medical cannabis when flying in Canada, but it may not be a pleasant experience.

Patients have been sharing their stories with Cannabis Life Network, saying they are made to feel like criminals while trying to board a plane.  From secondary security checks, to having their bags emptied in front of other passengers, many patients are left feeling humiliated by the process.

Here are some guidelines to follow according to Canadian Air Transport Security (CATSA) and law enforcement, along with some advice from medical patients.

1. Always let screening staff know you are carrying medical marijuana.

CATSA says medical marijuana patients should declare what they have and are “allowed to keep it in their carry-on or checked luggage,” but they should arrive “a bit early” so their prescription can be checked. But some experienced travelers say you can avoid delays and secondary screenings by simply not reporting what you have unless asked. Authorities do warn against this advice, saying if they notice you are carrying cannabis and you haven’t been up front about it, they may assume you’re doing it illegally. That could lead to a more thorough search, and you missing your flight.

2. Expect to show your documentation to a police officer.

CATSA employees don’t have the authority to check medical marijuana prescriptions, so “law enforcement will be called in to verify the documents.” According to officials, officers must respond to a CATSA request “within 5 minutes.”  But that doesn’t guarantee how quickly they will assess each case. Richmond RCMP stationed at Vancouver International Airport say officers may contact Health Canada to check prescriptions.

3. Expect a police officer to search your bag.

Authorities say not only will documents be looked over, but luggage will also be checked to make sure the person is not carrying more medical cannabis than they are allowed.  Even though patients are permitted to fly with their medicine, they can expect to be subjected to a luggage search. Officials say this won’t change while marijuana remains listed on the Controlled Drug and Substances Act.

4.  Keep medical marijuana in your carry-on luggage.

Local police stationed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport recommend patients travel with their medical marijuana in a carry-on bag.  It can cause major delays if an officer decides to inspect a bag that has been checked.

5. Show up early.

Medical marijuana patients are told to expect some delays, but CATSA says it shouldn’t take longer than “a half-hour wait” if the officer determines there are no violations.

So if you follow the advice of authorities,  you could end up being put through a secondary search and having your bags emptied, as this is up to the officer’s discretion.  Not telling screening staff you are carrying cannabis isn’t illegal, but there is the risk of being flagged for an extensive search and questioning.

If a passenger has any issues with how they are processed while at airport, their only recourse is to file a complaint with police.