The recent arrest in Russia of WNBA player Brittney Griner highlights the perils of traveling with cannabis products. For those not familiar with the matter, Griner was detained after Russian Customs “allegedly found vape cartridges containing cannabis in her luggage.”
At the onset, it must be noted that Griner’s arrest comes at a time of unprecedented tensions between Russia and the United States. While the incident predates the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s not as if U.S.-Russia relations were hunky-dory in the leadup to hostilities. As far as this particular case goes, we cannot dismiss the possibility that Griner is an unfortunate pawn in the geopolitical game, who may in fact be blameless.
This said, a lot of travelers do get in trouble as a result of their own decisions regarding cannabis. Here are some basic tips for avoiding problems, if you want to even consider traveling with cannabis products.
First, make sure you really understand the legal status of the product in your home country. A first-time visitor to the United States who spends all their time in Seattle may, if not versed in the legalities, assume that adult-use cannabis is legal across the United States. But it isn’t. What’s more, it’s unlawful at the federal level, and the feds are in charge of border controls and aviation.
Second, do that same thing for the country of destination. Keep in mind that a country may be fine with certain activities relating to cannabis, but not others. In fact, even countries that are pretty open when it comes to cannabis may draw the line at importation. Along the same lines, a country may not be too hung up on the whole reefer madness thing (which is not to say that you should ever travel with actual cannabis!), but it may take food and drug safety very seriously.
Similarly, there might be a high degree of tolerance for cannabis use in a particular country or area, but that may not reflect laws on the books. What is OK in bars and beaches may not be OK at an airport or border crossing.
Finally, don’t forget about transfers. International transfers are not like domestic transfers: There is a good chance you’ll need to go through security controls. And depending on the circumstances you may need to go through immigration and customs controls — even if you’re just in transit. Don’t neglect transfer points when analyzing legal risks.
To conclude, unless you have some ironclad legal advice regarding the treatment of a particular product in the countries of departure, transfer, and arrival, keep those products at home. And we mean it when we say ironclad: There’s a lot of sketchy information online when it comes to cannabis. You don’t want to make decisions that could land you in jail based on that kind of information. Talk to someone who truly understands the law.