A Lawyer Explains the Risk in Flying Cannabis Across the Country for Cash

By Lindsay MaHarry on April 27, 2017

I recently encountered a proposition capable of splintering my life in the best or worst of directions. As a freelance writer, money doesn't always flow in an adult way. The thought of owning things large enough to fit inside of seems preposterous. To make $4,000 in a few hours is tempting, especially when you’re drunk, it’s only weed, and a mutual friend with a Maybach assures you the task carries little risk. 

As shades of legality spread across the country, a particularly illegal hustle has gained traction in the sky. Dealers in barren regions, sick of losing packages with UPS, are utilizing the lax laws of the West to play on twenty something's financial desperation, offering a few grand to fly pounds of cannabis from chill states to not so chill states. While law enforcement typically doesn’t want to care about cannabis anymore, and the dogs at the airport are looking for bombs, glossing words like misdemeanor and probation over a reality that is felony and time served is predatory. 

"Some girls do it three times a month," said the Maybach. The bar was loud, I considered. Musings of opulence colored my judgement. The $5,000 down for a desert house on the Salton Sea, a credit score above 600, shitty motels, filet minions, trips to cheap places. Had I not watched every episode of Locked Up Abroad, I might have been down. But if the risk is so small, why offer a rate that exceeds prostitution? Why find girls to do it when he could do it himself? 

Howard Cohn, a partner with Ohio-based cannabis law firm THC Legal Group, elucidated what a huge mistake this could have been: "Fundamentally, marijuana is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act," he said. "That means even in states where cannabis is legal, federal agents can swoop in and shut it down. Moving cannabis across state lines is absolutely prohibited. It’s a federal crime. And if you take enough, and pounds is definitely enough, you’re a federal felon." 

While trafficking drugs is a definite "no," authoritarian lenience and the opaque, shifting laws of cannabis in America convolute what is right and wrong. This anonymous someone has flown monthly for years, banking incredible cash. She’s confident in the unlikeliness of her demise. 

"It's stupid, but it works," she said, unbothered. “I'm pretty sure it would be a misdemeanor. They have really good lawyers." 

A lot of people fly with cannabis, from growers shopping pounds on the East Coast to me arriving at JFK with nugs in my underwear. On the larger scale of distribution, the consensus on what goes down with the airport is as follows: If you're flying out of LA, and they search your bag in LA and find cannabis, they have to call the airport you’re flying into to alert them that this girl is coming in with packs of cannabis and to arrest her upon arrival. This is rare because it’s a ton of paperwork and why would they care? Airport employees aren't the most enthusiastic, and on their end, it’s perfectly legal not to care. Bags are not searched upon arrival in the illegal state, so unless they rat on you for no reason, making extra work for themselves, you’re all good. 

"That’s true," Howard agreed. "But look, if you’re carrying pounds, it would appear you have an intent to sell rather than for personal medicinal use. If and when a dealer tells a transporter there is little risk, the dealer is being disingenuous at best. It’s all about money. They're not trying to help someone out. You don't want to be in jail, and even if you’re a college student with a clean record who skirted jail time, you would likely be a felon. That's a big deal."

Photo credit: Sergey Svechnikov.

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