Coachella, with its stacked lineup and desert landscape, has transcended the regular festival circuit and become its own vacation destination. Attracting over 600,000 people, many folks will take flights to arrive there. While packing, all of them face the same quandary:
Can I just bring my weed? Isn’t it legal in Cali anyway?
While this sounds reasonable, the Federal Government actually dictates that cannabis cannot cross state lines. The Feds have yet to acknowledge marijuana as a medical need nor recreational right and still consider it a Schedule 1 drug.
Therefore, even if you have medical marijuana for a documented need, it cannot legally cross state lines. Even if you are going from Washington to California, both of which allow medical cannabis, it may not come with you.
This is a huge paradox in the law: how can something be both legal and illegal at the same time? At this point, it’s relevant to know that in 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), unifying the former drug laws in one place.
CSA famously defines the “drug schedules”. Schedule 1 is defined as “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. This is fascinating as, depending on the current medical landscape, it seems like any drug could have a legitimate medical use. Indeed, MDMA has a history of being used to treat severe trauma. Also, contemporary culture seems to accept that cannabis has legitimate medical uses.
The relevant stipulation of the CSA is that it relies on state governments to help with the prosecution of drug violations. Therefore, the act allows the states some discretion on their drug policies, because they are being relied upon to enforce them. So, being inside of a state may grant citizens immunity, but inter-state commerce is still the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. Unfortunately, the contemporary landscape has forced them to exert this force heavily in one place—air travel.
After September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security was created, and subsequently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In the aftermath of such terror, people were glad to trade some personal liberties for a sense of security. The struggle between these two—perceived safety and perceived liberty-- is still one of the most relevant themes today.
While TSA is charged to screen for bombs and explosives, they retain the authority to report other illegal activity to law enforcement agencies. Be aware of this if you insist on bringing drugs into their jurisdiction; you could be detained and reported to the police.
According to the TSA blog, however, it seems like they are mostly focused on weapons, even then with compassion, saying,
“Just because we find a prohibited item on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions; that's for the law enforcement officer to decide. In many cases, people simply forgot they had these items”
Shifting focus to the festival itself, Attorney Forest Wilkerson gives some insight for having drugs inside the gates. She denounces the notion that asking “Are you a cop?” will force an admission from narcs. Indeed, undercover police can appear in all forms; even a sexy rave kitty could be doing the government’s work. To be safe, only talk about and do drugs with people that you know personally.
If charged, it’s relevant to be aware of different severities. “Simple possession” implies that the drug quantity was for personal use. This charge usually allows for a drug program and eventual dismissal.
“Possession for sales” is a different animal; selling a controlled substance is a non-reducible charge that carries jail time. Law enforcement looks for these things when deciding which charge to make:
- quantity of the drug
- separate versus individual packaging
- large quantities of cash
- multiple cell phones
- written or digital records of sales
If you do get charged, say nothing. Criminal law is the art of manipulating the notion of justice. With such high stakes, always have a lawyer!
Granted, legal help can be expensive. If you’re lacking funds and in hot water, it’s worth knowing about this attorney hotline. While it can’t be your infamous “one phone call”, it’s $40 and could be a nudge in the right direction.
Marlo Spieth likes to analyze society and the law. She does outreach and guest posts for Avvo, a website that offers online legal services.
Please note: The views and opinions expressed are the author’s alone and do not represent Avvo. Also, the legal information herein is intended for general informational purposes only and is not the provision of legal services. Please acknowledge that such information consists of third party data and contributions, that there are certain inherent limitations to the accuracy or currency of such information, that legal and other information may be incomplete, may contain inaccuracies, or may be based on opinion.