At today's Hillsborough County Aviation Authority meeting, board member Victor Crist drew laughs but insisted he was serious when he asked the Aviation Authority's general counsel Gigi Rechel if she had begun thinking about the ramifications of legalized medical marijuana for Tampa International Airport, scheduled to begin a serious redesign later this year as part of its billion-dollar master plan.
"In the event it [the constitutional amendment] passes, it's going to create some issues," the county commissioner told CL this afternoon. He said that when the American Disabilities Act became federal law in 1990, "There were trial lawyers that partnered with special interest groups that looked for lack of access and began suing over it, and it became quite lucrative." He's concerned about medical marijuana patients claiming that they weren't being accommodated, and how that might play out legally.
Nearly every poll taken in Florida this year regarding the medical marijuana constitutional amendment shows the measure passing with over 60 percent of the vote, the margin required to become law. Florida could join 21 other states that allow such use, with two of those states, Colorado and (soon) Washington, allowing everyone, not just those with a prescription, to possess pot. Over a dozen other states are also contemplating medical marijuana laws in 2014.
The Transportation Security Administration says its officers do not search for weed or other drugs in U.S.airports. On its website
, the agency says
TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs. In the event a substance that appears to be marijuana is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.
Whether or not marijuana is considered legal under local law is not relevant to TSA screening because TSA is governed by federal law. Federal law provides no basis to treat medical marijuana any differently than non-medical marijuana.
Even if an item is generally permitted, it may be subject to additional screening or not allowed through the checkpoint if it triggers an alarm during the screening process, appears to have been tampered with, or poses other security concerns. The final decision rests with TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane.
However, the federal government has banned marijuana from any federal property, or any areas under federal control. That would include the secure areas of the airport (the areas inside the TSA screening areas), and on any airliners. That does not necessarily mean all parts of an airport. The federal government does ban marijuana, even medical marijuana, on aircraft, whether in a carry-on item, in checked bags, or in any package being shipped by air. Medial marijuana is treated the same: The federal government makes no distinction between medical marijuana and other kinds of marijuana.
Crist has several questions he'd like the legal staff at TIA to get in front of, such as "What kind of depositories are we going to have to provide?" and "If you truly are using it for medicinal purposes and you've got scrip for it, and you want access for your medication, what would be required, and how would it fit into a new design?" referring to the makeover that the airport will soon be undergoing.
A Republican running for re-election later this year in District 2, Crist says he doesn't relish bringing up these issues, but thinks the Aviation Authority has a responsibility to consider the impact of spending over a billion dollars on its master plan, only to have to change that design by legal mandate.
"You can't just dumpster dive for dope," he says, half seriously.
"Our legal staff is monitoring the issue as it evolves," says Janet Zink, assistant vice president of media and government relations with the airport.
In January, officials with Denver International Airport passed a new policy
that a worker or visitor could face a fine of up to $150 for a first offense in possessing pot. A second offense could lead to a fine up to $500. A third offense and subsequent incidents could mean paying up to $999 in fines. USA Today quoted
Sean McAllister, a lawyer who is on the board of the Colorado chapter of NORML, as saying that medical marijuana patients used to be allowed to fly with their medication to other states with similar laws. But no longer.
Meanwhile in Tallahassee, a committee in the notoriously conservative Florida House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill to legalize a strain of marijuana for medical purposes,