Following the signing of the Farm Bill late last year, many federally employed sectors needed to update their policies. Two primary sectors were the Post Office, as well as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Many people have encountered the TSA at one point or another, typically during unfavorably long security waits while traveling.
The change was subtle, yet carried a large impact. Earlier this year, under the “What Can I Bring?” Section of their webpage, medical marijuana was updated from “no” to “yes*” pending “special instructions.”
The agency specifically mentions CBD, or hemp, derived products which are now allowed to be carried through airport security (under certain circumstances).
There were no previous distinctions in the way cannabis products were treated, which was often a “zero tolerance” policy citing a Schedule 1 narcotic. However, the rules have officially changed, reading that possessing only “certain” cannabis products would be a violation. TSA representatives remind passengers that it is still federal law to report suspected “violations” of cannabis possession, although “products/medications that contain hemp-derived CBD or are approved by the FDA are legal as long as it is produced within the regulations defined by the law under the Agriculture Improvement Act 2018.”
It is unclear how TSA intends on differentiating CBD-only cannabis with any other form of the plant, yet law enforcement suspects they will need to deploy reliable field testing and proper training to TSA agents. They will also need to keep and update a database of new FDA approved products as they become available.
One TSA spokesperson commented, “TSA was made aware of an FDA-approved drug that contains CBD oil for children who experience seizures from pediatric epilepsy … to avoid confusion as to whether families can travel with this drug, TSA immediately updated once we became aware of the issue.”
Much of the remaining verbiage on the TSA website remains unchanged. Language including statements that they do not utilize agency resources to discover illegal drugs, and are only “focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers,” yet “if any illegal substance is discovered during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.” A fair statement, until a passenger traveling with hemp is mistaken for trafficking narcotics.
The TSA is also known for backtracking on its public policy and claimed a “mistake was made in the database,” referencing the removal of previous language issued in 2017. Only two years ago, the TSA briefly amended their website to include allowing medicinal cannabis. This was until the press became aware of the change, and grew the attention aimed at the agency.
“Whether or not marijuana is considered legal under local laws is not relevant to TSA screening because TSA is governed by federal law,” adding, “Federal law provides no basis to treat medical marijuana any differently than non-medical marijuana.”
Questionable statements, especially considering the size and scope of the newly formed industrial hemp market.
Other federal agencies such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, have issued public statements specifically addressing hemp. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also claimed they were legally allowed to operate internationally in their acquisition of hemp, and hemp seeds, and were accepting applications regarding the protection of intellectual property.
Many agencies, including the FDA and the offices mentioned previously, are currently drafting more specific, and longterm policies. Hemp and the products derived from the plant are a rapidly growing sector of the economy and infiltrating all 50 states, meaning it is possible we may see products recalled from the shelves when new rules and regulations are created.