CA: City Councilman Mitch Englander Calls For Marijuana ‘Amnesty Boxes’ At LAX

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Photo Credit: Regina Garcia Cano

A Los Angeles City Council member wants to give travelers flying out of Los Angeles International Airport with marijuana in their possession the option to dump the legal drug in a so-called “amnesty box” before going through security.

The effort by Councilman Mitch Englander touches on a sort of gray area for the drug, whose possession is legal in California.

The federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule 1, thus illegal, drug and if a Transportation Security Administration officer finds a substance that may violate federal law — such as marijuana — they let local law enforcement to handle the issue.

But at LAX, if an adult traveler is found to have a legal amount of pot — less than an ounce — in their possession, Airport Police officers will let them go through security regardless of their destination, said Los Angeles Airport Police spokesman Rob Pedregon.

“Airport Police handle possession of marijuana at LAX consistent with the manner in which all Los Angeles police officers within the city handle possession,” he said in an email. “If an adult citizen is found in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana no legal action is taken and the citizen retains their property. Their are no special considerations made because of the location.”

Pedregon said that officers do advise travelers that the drug may be illegal wherever they are traveling.

“But here in the state of California we are enforcing our laws,” he said.

Englander wants to give the travelers the option of dumping their weed before it might get them in trouble.

“You could be at a minimum held over and searched and miss your flight,” he said.

Englander’s motion will go to the council’s Trade, Trave and Tourism Committee for review before it returns to the full council for a vote.

Airports in states where marijuana is legal handle the issue in their own way

Airports have varying approaches to handling pot-possessing passengers.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, if a TSA officer finds marijuana on a traveler, airport police check to determine whether the person is of legal age and has a legal amount of pot on them, and if so then let them go on their way.

In Nevada, possession of marijuana for recreational use became legal this year, but the Clark County Commission voted in 2017 to ban pot at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas to keep the facility in line with federal law.

The airport set up 20 amnesty boxes this February to accommodate their pot-holding travelers. So far, the boxes have gotten steady use, said Christine Crews, spokeswoman for McCarran.

“Edibles, liquids, the dried plant product, vape pens, however they sell it we have seen it here,” she said.

The airport has also found a half-eaten burger and a cup of Starbucks coffee in the boxes, she said.

Airports in Colorado handle pot differently.

The Colorado Springs airport also set up amnesty pot dump sites after the city voted to ban the drug from the facility.

Denver International doesn’t offer amnesty boxes. Instead officials ask travelers to discard their marijuana and police confiscate it, a spokeswoman there told The Times earlier this year.

“No one has been in trouble for this. Also, we’ve not had problems with discarded MJ. All has gone well,” spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said in an email.

Pedregon, the spokesman for the Los Angeles Airport Police, said the department had not considered putting in amnesty boxes.

He said that after the Sept. 11 attacks, all lockers and mail drops were removed from the airport “as security concerns and vulnerabilities were assessed and implemented.”

“We wouldn’t want to compromise our security and introduce a place where a terrorist could covertly deposit an IED [improvised explosive device],” he said in an e-mail. “Therefore no considerations have been made to install amnesty boxes.”

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