One thing surrounding legal weed, along with quite a few rules and regulations, is confusion. Counties and states are allowed to decide for themselves which kinds of weed are allowed, even though it is banned at a federal level. One public area that surprises the public is airports. The federal law encompasses commercial flights. Therefore, you are required by federal law to pass Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inspection, a federal operation.
Due to airports being a boundary between both national and local laws, the airport staff and security are having to negotiate transitions with passengers that carry marijuana from towns that are weed legal, to those that aren’t. Some airports have found a solution in amnesty boxes. Passengers can easily leave behind their cannabis, or any other possibly illegal substances, in the bright green mini mailboxes that the airports provide, and they can do it anonymously. The contents of the boxes are emptied out and destroyed by police officers or private contractors on a regular basis. These boxes have served to help many people duck out of a felony, and saved quite a few would be felons from citations, fines, and jail time, but you have to remember that they do favors for the airports as well.
Back in 2014 the Colorado Springs Airport first put amnesty boxes into play. According to Aidan Ryan, the marketing, and communications manager of the Colorado Springs Airport, the airport was tired of having to throw weed out, having it flushed, and buried along the airport’s property. Two years prior weed had been legalized in the state and tourists with weed were a very popular customer. They would show up to the airport only to discover that it was a federal crime to carry their purchase onto the plane, even if the plane was departing and arriving in weed-legal areas. Another issue was that TSA was made to report any amount of weed found during screening to the airport security, no matter the amount or type of weed. They wanted a way to alert the passengers and remain within the law; the solution was to put in the bright green boxes, the first airport to do so. The bins work much like a mailbox: once you put something in, you can’t take it out again. The boxes are emptied out once a month by Colorado Springs Airport Police, and according to Ryan, the boxes are never empty when it the monthly cleaning comes around.
Another airport and set of customers that find the bright green bins to be pretty useful is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and their passengers. Back in February 2018 the airport officially drilled the bins into the pavement, a short 13 months after the legalization of weed in Nevada. According to the McCarran International Airport’s public information officer, the citation rate for marijuana possession at the airport hasn’t changed much since the bins were put in, but all 13 bins are cleaned out twice a week by a private contractor, and they are never empty. As any drop-offs into the bright green bins are anonymous, all sorts of products are dropped into the bins. The contractors have found all sorts of prescription drugs and, according to Christine Crews, street drugs have even turned up in the pretty bright green boxes.
The containers serve a dual purpose: they start by helping the public to avoid any awkward or uncomfortable encounters with airport security and end with helping to maintain and protect the McCarran International Airport’s public image. Back when the law legalizing marijuana in Nevada passed, the airport decided to pass an ordinance that very clearly stated that weed would not be allowed on the airport’s property. The airport decided to try it’s best to keep any miscommunication from taking place. Even though they are operated by their local government, they still have to stay in line with many federal programs such as TSA, the Department of Homeland Security, the FFA, and other programs run by the federal government. Assuming everyone at the airport took the same position on the issue of marijuana, the airport would have fewer problems. Crews stated that the airport is very important to the economy of Nevada, and as such, they don’t have time for misunderstandings and hiccups. While they want to save time and be clear on the rules, they also don’t want to have to charge their customers for unlawful possessions. Crews explained that they are simply a leisure destination for many people and that they want people to feel welcomed into Las Vegas and to come back, it just wouldn’t be right to let them leave on such a bad note with a negative impression. Implementing the bright green bins allowed the McCarran International Airport to both comply with federal regulations and keep their customers happy.
The pretty bright green bins don’t just sound appealing in Colorado Springs and Las Vagas, they hold an appeal to Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, as well. The Appeal for Los Angeles International Airport is in large part due to the amount of time it could save police. The president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, Marshall McClain says that there is still a lot of marijuana coming through the doors of their airport. He says that due to the legalization of cannabis in the state more and more people are assuming that local rules apply to the airport when they don’t, which has more and more customers bringer their marijuana to the conveyor belts to fly. For every individual confiscation of marijuana, an officer has to pick up the drug, drive it to the police station and fill out all of the necessary paperwork, all in all, the process can take two or three hours. McClain’s department has been looking into installing the amnesty boxes ever since Los Angeles Councilman Mitchell Englander suggested the idea a few weeks prior. If they install the bright green boxes, there will be a bi-weekly cleanout of them.
So to make it a list, the boxes are completely anonymous, pretty attention-grabbing, and efficient. So what happens if you don’t use the amnesty boxes? According to Crews, as McCarran isn’t a fan of confrontations even at the TSA screenings, security happily offers you one last chance to ditch the pot in the boxes if you still have it by the time you hit your screening. Officers will only hand you a citation should you decide that you can’t possibly part with the weed. Though they will not offer you a chance if you’re carrying any other drugs or the amount in your possession passes the legal quantity in which you’re allowed to have on your person. Apparently at Los Angelas International Airport McClain is going to be taking a much stricter approach to marijuana possession. McCain says that should you make it to the conveyor belt with any pot still in your possession then you will be escorted by the posters that explain the situation and the amnesty boxes, you’ll also be fined or cited by an officer. Rhine was asked how the situation of a passenger entering security check with weed in their possession was handled by security over in Colorado Springs, while she said that she could not speak on behalf of the TSA she wasn’t to tell everyone that anytime they go through TSA, they are in fact at risk of violating federal law.
Some airports won’t be bothering with the amnesty boxes at all. According to the Denver International Airport, every passenger told about the law has either willingly taken their marijuana back to their vehicle or willingly thrown it in the trash. So they don’t see the point of installing the drop-off boxes at their airport. Another airport, Portland International Airport, have decided to negotiate an exception to the law in place with the local TSA there. Any passenger that is at least 21 years of age and flying within Oregon may keep their weed, so long as the amount in their possession is within the legal limit. However, if their flight goes outside of the state of Oregon, the customer does have a choice, they can return their marijuana to their vehicle or they can give it to whoever dropped them off at the airport. Kara Simons, the airport’s media relations manager, has stated in an email that the airport has zero interest in messing with the destruction or collection of marijuana
While trusting a passenger to return the marijuana to their vehicle doesn’t exactly seem like the best idea, the Colorado airport is having a few issues of their own to deal with. According to Rhine the possibility of the boxes having surveillance cameras on them is leading passengers to leave their pot in all sorts of places around the airport. While the Los Angeles International Airport has yet to even install any amnesty boxes, weed advocates and anti-legal weed advocates are already trying to convince McClain one way or the other. According to advocates of both sides that boxes in some way skirt the laws surrounding marijuana. The truth is the boxes are just there to show what the regulations are in different areas and to make things easier all around.
McClain says that they won’t entertain the discussion of whether or not marijuana should be legal. Instead, they just want to deal with their current situation and resolve it in the best way that they can.