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Cannabis 101

Can You Legally Transport Cannabis Across State Lines?

June 23, 2017

The short answer, of course, is no.

Federal law prohibits transporting any federally restricted substance across state lines, and cannabis clocks in at Schedule I on the Controlled Substances Act, alongside the likes of heroin and LSD.

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What happens, however, when you’re transporting cannabis across state lines between two legal states, like Oregon and Washington, or California and Nevada?

“You’re still, by crossing the state lines, falling within the jurisdiction of the federal government. Even if cannabis is legal in both states, it’s that crossing of the border that puts you at risk.”
Alison Malsbury, Canna Law Group attorney

“From a legal perspective, it’s very cut and dried,” Alison Malsbury, a Canna Law Group attorney explains. “In practice, however, it’s very ambiguous.”

“The risks you’re running in theory are much bigger than in practice. You’re still, by crossing the state lines, falling within the jurisdiction of the federal government. Even if cannabis is legal in both states, it’s that crossing of the border that puts you at risk,” Malsbury says.

Despite federal risks, however, the reality may be a bit more reassuring. “In practice, the chances of feds or the DEA sitting at the border waiting to catch someone–that’s just not happening,” she points out. “It’s not practical or worth their time.”

“What’s more likely,” she contends, “is that you’ll find yourself in another state where cannabis is not legal and, if you end up facing charges, taking cannabis across the border is considered an aggravating factor.”

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Another area to watch out for, even within a legal state, is nearing any border crossing between countries. We’re not even talking about crossing the border–simply entering the border crossing zone is enough to land you in hot water.

“We had a client transporting cannabis within the state that got to the border crossing in Canada,” Malsbury elaborates. “You fall within the federal jurisdiction without even crossing the border, and they had everything seized. Once you fall within the gambit of Customs, a whole other set of rules apply. It was one producer-processor to another, but they had everything seized. This is just one example of how the federal government is going to continue functioning.”

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Section 812 of Title 21 of the U.S. Code, the Schedule of Controlled Substances makes no distinction between a legal state, a medical state, or an illegal state. Violating this section is a federal crime and could earn you a drug trafficking charge, even for the lowest tier of cannabis.

For the possession of:

  • 1 kilogram or less of hash oil
  • 10 kilograms or less of hashish
  • 1 to 49 cannabis plants
  • Less than 50 kilograms of cannabis flower

The penalties are:

  • 1st offense: up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 to $1 million
  • 2nd offense: up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of $500,000 to $2 million

Basically, it doesn’t matter if it’s a gram or 50 kilograms of cannabis–the penalty remains the same.

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Indeed, even some legalized states are starting to carry penalties for transporting cannabis across state lines. 

“In practice, the chances of feds or the DEA sitting at the border waiting to catch someone–that’s just not happening. It’s not practical or worth their time.”
Alison Malsbury

Oregon passed House Bill 4014 expressly forbidding the import of cannabis from another state, as well as exporting cannabis across state lines. Violating this law by importing or exporting:

  • Up to an ounce of cannabis is punishable by a Class B violation: $260 fine
  • Over an ounce of cannabis is punishable by a Class A misdemeanor:  $6,250 fine
  • Over 16 ounces of cannabis is punishable by a Class C felony: $125,000 fine and up to 5 years imprisonment

In Nevada, NRS 453.321 states that it is unlawful for a person to“import, transport, sell, exchange, barter, supply, prescribe, dispense, give away or administer a controlled or counterfeit substance”:

If the substance is considered Schedule I, you could face a Category B felony, punishable by $10,000 fine and 2 to 10 years in prison.

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California’s new legalization law, Proposition 64, makes it clear:

26080. (a) This division shall not be construed to authorize or permit a licensee to transport or distribute, or cause to be transported or distributed, marijuana or marijuana products outside the state, unless authorized by federal law.

What would it take for interstate cannabis commerce to become a reality? “In order for that to be possible, we would have to see federal legalization,” Malsbury informs Leafly.

Are we likely to see that in the near future?

“Under the current administration? Probably not.”

Lisa Rough's Bio Image

Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

View Lisa Rough's articles

5 part series

  • Ryan Jacob

    You are able to bring cannabis back into Arizona as long as you are a medical marijuana patient.

    • Two Bears

      I am an MMJ PATIENT in AZ but stuck in a catch 22

      I was moving after i recertified for my 2016-2017 card so i gave my new address.

      I moved and no card ever showed up. Either it was lost in the mail or some MORON returned it to the state.

      For months i have been fighting with the state. According to the state i can only get a card re-issued through the website. I have tried many times to get tge card issued but i cant because i dont have the friggin number on the card because i never got it. So i am stuck in the middle abd cant talk to someone with the sense of half a load of gravel.

      • GBAUTO

        Hell, I’d be grateful to live in a state that even ALLOWED cannabis use. My state of Georgia still considers me a menace to society for using MMJ to treat my chronic pain-I guess taking mass quantities of opiates is better..
        Do what I do, if you’re able-grow your own.

        • Two Bears

          Its coming. States are desperate for tax money tgey see other states rakung in $millions or billions of tax money and they want to jump on the gravy train.

          We already have cannabis tourism. With Nevada going online today the demand for medical abd recreational cannabis will only get louder.

        • disqus_W52UHcjdX1

          Absolutely absurd! First, our so-called “leaders” in GA vote FOR limited MMJ. But they refuse to authorize in-state making of MMJ anti-seizure tincture AND keep it a crime to transport it INTO the state. Everyone a fool, from the Governor on-down. Good grief!

      • Raymond Short

        Your card # is the same as your “old” card. Just add one (1) to the last digit on current card.

    • k55f

      Just moved to Az. You can’t drive to CA or get within 25 miles of the border without stopping at a border control check point. Every time that I go through a checkpoint, there are drug-sniffing dogs that are directed around your vehicle.
      If you are an out-of-state medical cannabis patient you are allowed to possess the weed -up to 1 oz, but you can’t buy any in state – it has to be gifted to you. I haven’t heard of any dispensaries that do gifting, as there is no profits in giving away your products.

  • Eileen Brown

    I’ve heard that PA has something called “Safe Harbor”. I don’t live in PA, but wondered how it works.

  • Jeffrey Survives

    I live in Southern Oregon. We are happy for the marijuana legalization here in Oregon because It creates jobs and prosperity for the people in the economic-depressed region of Oregon. There are a boom of proliferation of cannabis markets and farms. That helps our economy and prosperity. We are in the present era of cannabis rush. Politicians need to fix and clean up unnecessary laws and regulations to ease overloaded police works.

  • FlunkedAgain

    Be careful. I’ve been stopped for driving with out-of-state plates, and one Pig conducted a search.

  • Scott Hubachek

    Thankfully, as a Member of ONAC, I’m legally able to under Federal Law.

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  • Nedly Mandingo IV

    My friend just got busted last night with over 28g of marijuana. I’m not sure of the total amount and whether it’s just flowers or concentrates. Cops pulled him over for a traffic violation and somehow gained access to search his vehicle. He’s currently in jail facing two felonies tied to trafficking. Nevada doesn’t fool around. I’m curious as to what his sentence will be. He crossed state lines being that he came from California.

  • Kevin Wan

    Wrong a guy I know got busted crossing 5 statelines with 25lbs weed and he tried to shoot my wife in the back but hit the truck window. DEA waited for him to cross I’m so happy he got busted! Oh yeah! Also he punched my wife in the face he was a neighbor a grower on Friday the 13th at 1300hour. He pretended to be nice neighbor at first.

  • david

    I literally called the police departments and highway patrol to ask permission and they said I could bring my vape pen from phoenix to vegas and that was before legalization.