Pot Amnesty Boxes At Chicago’s Airports

Cannabis Amnesty Box in Chicago Photo: The Chicago Police Department

Marijuana officially became legal in Illinois on Jan. 1 and with the weed came an interesting side effect: Chicago’s airports have set up “cannabis amnesty boxes” where departing travelers can deposit their paraphernalia before boarding their flights.

Passengers began noticing the bright blue receptacles outside the TSA checkpoints at O’Hare and Midway last week.

The amnesty boxes are owned by Chicago’s Department of Aviation and serviced by the Chicago Police Department, Maggie Huynh, spokesperson for CPD told USA TODAY in an emailed statement.

“The boxes, placed at the end of every TSA checkpoint at both O’Hare and Midway, were in place once the new cannabis law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The boxes are where travelers can safely dispose of cannabis and cannabis products prior to travel, as they still remain illegal under federal law,” said Huynh.

While it is now legal for Illinois residents over the age of 21 to carry 30 grams (about an ounce) of the plant itself or cannabis concentrate (such as oils) and a half-gram of THC and for out-of-state visitors to have half that much, it is still illegal to transport any of it across state lines.

The blue boxes “probably saved a few panicked travelers some hassle,” @TheMarkSteffen tweeted after spotting one at O’Hare on Jan. 5.

Some Colorado airports have the boxes as well, including Colorado Springs and Aspen.

“I think anytime somebody throws something out before leaving town, I would consider it successful,” Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo told The Aspen Daily News. “I think people are doing the right thing.”

Interestingly, Colorado’s biggest airport, Denver International, does not have them. That’s because although marijuana became legal in the state in 2014, marijuana is banned from airport property.

It’s against the airport’s policy to possess or consume marijuana, in any form, on airport property, Emily Williams, public information officer for Denver International Airport told USA TODAY in an email.

“People can be cited for having any amount of marijuana at the airport,” Williams added. “Denver Police will investigate when a person is found to possess a substance that is suspected to be or contain marijuana at a TSA checkpoint. If the amount of marijuana is legal under Colorado law, the passenger is generally able to continue on without a citation, though the marijuana product is not returned to them.”

The boxes are also present in Las Vegas. Sin City’s airport installed the boxes in 2018.

Some Twitter users have shared suggestions on what to do with the cannabis and related products collected in the amnesty boxes in Chicago.

User Mark Jacob, posted an article related to the amnesty boxes and wrote, “If Chicago airports are letting departing travelers drop cannabis in these amnesty boxes, shouldn’t they let arriving travelers take weed out of the box? Let’s give our tourists a hearty welcome.”

Another user joked that the boxes could replace curbside boxes at libraries. And Harryette Drayton wondered publicly on Twitter who “the keeper” of the box is with a sequence of three emojis.

While the boxes seem to solve the problem of what to do with leftover weed when leaving the state, they can present another issue. The boxes have turned into spaces for items of a different kind in the past.

In 2017, Denver publication Westword reported that some of the “stinkiest” stuff left in the boxes was not pot. Instead, travelers left dirty diapers, half-empty Starbucks cups and other trash in the receptacles marked “Pot Only” in Aspen’s airport.