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Can You Travel with CBD Oil? Laws are Murky, But Here’s How to Protect Yourself Is it legal to fly with CBD products within the United States? If it’s a certain type—yes. If it breaks the The law on CBD oil in the US can be complex, so where does this leave passengers, who want to take theirs with them? In the blog we ask, 'can I travel with CBD oil?' U.S. border protection has barred a young Canadian woman from crossing the border after cannabidiol (CBD) oil was found in her backpack — a non-psychoactive product of the cannabis plant she uses to treat the painful side effects of scoliosis.

Can You Travel with CBD Oil? Laws are Murky, But Here’s How to Protect Yourself

Is it legal to fly with CBD products within the United States? If it’s a certain type—yes. If it breaks the rules—no. Here’s how to make sure your CBD can be transported legally.

We probably don’t have to tell you, but cannabidiol (CBD) oil has become a firm favorite among alternative treatments in anxiety, epilepsy, skin care, nausea, and more. What’s not so firm is the legality of traveling with it.

We’ll be honest: The legality of CBD is still muddy. The government has done a terrible job making standards clear, leaving the door wide open for local law enforcement to put everyday people through a legal wringer with no outcome. If you run across a security officer who’s in a bad mood, there aren’t many cut-and-dry regulations that will spare you grief.

A central problem is confusion about what CBD is and what it does. Think of cannabis as having two major components. CBD is the compound that is responsible for the major health effects of cannabis—it’s the part that’s increasingly legal. The other part, delta (9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is the chemical that gives you a high and makes law enforcement freak out. Smoking a joint delivers both compounds, but products can be manufactured to exclude THC, eliminating the high. Those are generally what are referred to as CBD products, although even those may still contain trace amounts of THC, sometimes by accident.

Two important questions will determine whether your CBD product is legally protected: Was this derived from hemp or from marijuana? and What is its concentration of THC?

Know its origin

CBD can be derived from two major sources: hemp (totally legal) or marijuana (legality differs by state).

Traveling with hemp-based CBD can be fine. That’s because the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (“Farm Bill”) removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, and in late 2019, the USDA affirmed that you have the right to transport hemp-based CBD across state lines.

Before you travel with marijuana-derived CBD, check the legality of medical marijuana at the state you’re visiting. A majority of American states have legalized it, so that gives you protection at the state level, so you shouldn’t encounter issues as long as you don’t pass through other states that ban it.

Will the TSA care?

There’s one more factor you must consider when traveling with CBD oil: the trace amounts of THC it contains.

The TSA’s official site says CBD oils “remain illegal under federal law except for products that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis or that are approved by FDA.”

So according to the TSA, you may travel with CBD if its THC content is under that 0.3% threshold. (And, of course, if the amount you’re carrying conforms to the usual 3-ounce limit that applies to all liquids and lotions.)

The TSA says it’s not interested in policing illegal drugs. It’s concerned about passenger safety, so it’s not going to search your bags for drugs. But if its agents do happen to come across any illegal substance in the course of normal screening, they still might refer you to the police.

Bottom line

It may be legal federally, but you might have to deal with zealous local officers who are keen to enforce their state’s tighter rules. In 2019, a 69-year-old woman was arrested by a sheriff deputy at the gates of a Disney World park as she tried to enter with her family. The CBD oil that she used to soothe her arthritis tested positive for THC content despite the fact its label claimed it had none. While CBD is legal federally and she had a doctor’s note, the state of Florida had not caught up and the deputy wouldn’t let it go, so she spent 12 pointless hours in jail before she was released.

The furor was for nothing. Charges against her were dropped, and two months later, CBD was legalized in Florida. It’s unlikely her arrest would happen today, but the incident highlights how labeling standards and police education will be key until the law becomes clear and definite.

In the United States, law enforcement officers are often just as confused by the law, so if you’re polite and don’t look like a high-volume drug trafficker, they are more likely to look the other way—but still, that’s no guarantee.

For maximum confidence, make sure the product was obtained from industrial hemp and contains less than 0.3% of THC; that generally covers you on the more stringent federal level, and no state will bust you for a hemp-based product. Now that the USDA is monitoring THC content, labeling accuracy for trace amounts of THC should improve, too, so you’ll be much less likely to get caught out.

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It’s all so confusing and needlessly stressful that we could use a good anti-anxiety treatment. Anyone know of something that would work?

Is it illegal to fly into the United States with CBD oil?

CBD oil is part of the daily routine for thousands of people, so if you’re considering a holiday or a business trip, then you might be wondering if you can take it with you. It may seem as easy as popping it in your bag and boarding the plane, but the rules in the United States can be complex. In this blog, we ask ‘can I travel with CBD oil?’

Federal law vs state law

Rules in the United States on cannabis-infused products are made and governed by separate authorities at a country-wide level (federal law) and at a state level. Before you travel, you need to know the rules of both, or you risk being caught out.

Don’t just check the federal law and assume you’ll be ok, because local law enforcement officers at your destination may take a different stance on it.

As in the case of Lena Bartula, who in 2019 at the age of 71, was arrested at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport after officers found CBD oil in her hand luggage. She spent two nights in jail before the case against her was dropped by local prosecutors.

What does the federal law say?

Airport checks in America are the responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). On their website, they make it clear that ‘marijuana and certain cannabis infused products, including some cannabidiol (CBD) oil products, remain illegal under federal law’.¹ However, there are some exceptions:

  • products that contain no more than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis
  • products that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

To unpick this, we need to know a bit more about THC and what products the FDA has approved for use in the US.

What is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)?

Tetrahydrocannabinol is an organic compound found in some species of cannabis plants. It’s similar to CBD but with one big difference – it can get you ‘high’.

Hemp (a species of the cannabis plant) is considered to have no THC – or at least less than the 0.3% threshold stated in federal law. In 2018, the Farm Bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, so it can now be legally grown in the US.

What products are approved by FDA?

The FDA has only licensed one product for use in the United States – Epidiolex. This prescription drug is used to treat seizures in two rare and serious forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) and Dravet syndrome (DS)².

It makes it clear that it is illegal to add CBD to food, or label it as a dietary supplement.

What does the state law say?

You might assume that flying with hemp-derived CBD oils is safe as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC, but, unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as it seems.

Each individual state (and there are 50 of them!) has its own take on the rules. In Utah, for example, it is legal to use CBD oil with less that 0.3% THC, but CBD edibles are illegal with the exception of gelatin cubes (similar to CBD gummies).³

In North Carolina, it is illegal to grow hemp, but you can use it for medical purposes as long as it contains less than 0.9% THC. Hop over the border into Virginia, and CBD is legal, as long as it follows the guidelines set by the FDA.⁴

If you’re planning on passing through more than one state during your trip, then we recommend making a note of the rules for each state.

What about medical marijuana?

Marijuana is illegal under federal law. Although, the TSA makes it clear that their focus is on security, and they are not there to search for marijuana, if they do find an illegal substance on you during routine screening, they will refer it to law enforcement.

Though, medical marijuana is legal in 37 states, and recreational marijuana is now legal in 18 states, you have to ask yourself, is it worth the risk if you get stopped by the TSA?

Travelling with CBD products

Flying with CBD oil is anything but straightforward where America is concerned, but if you need to travel with these products, then there are things you can do to prepare.

  1. If you’re travelling to America with a UK-approved drug that contains cannabis, take your prescription with you to show on arrival. If possible, leave your medicine in its original packaging, so it can be verified by officials.
  2. For CBD products, we recommend taking its certificate of analysis (CoA) with you. This should include the amount of THC it contains, a list of other ingredients, and where and when it was tested.
  3. Before you go, print out the TSA’s most up-to-date regulations or save a link to their website on your phone, so that you have something to refer to if you are stopped by an agent, who is new in the job.
  4. Look at the rules in the state you are visiting, so you know what to expect, and if it’s possible, consider buying CBD over there so you don’t have to travel with it.
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If the worry of travelling with CBD outweighs the benefits, then it might be worth considering whether it’s better all round to leave it at home.

The key takeaway

CBD oil with small amounts of THC (under 0.3%) is legal in the US at a federal level, but don’t get caught out by the differing rules in each state. Before you travel, check the local laws in the states where you will be staying as they could be different.

Travelling with CBD isn’t straightforward, but there are things you can do to mitigate the risk, including being able to prove the THC content of your products, or having your prescription with you and the original packaging for your drugs.

Ultimately, the final decision on whether you can bring CBD into the United States lies with their officials. If the benefit of having it with you outweighs the risks, then be prepared to answer their questions on arrival.

Canadian woman faces lifetime ban after getting caught with CBD oil at U.S. border

U.S. border protection has barred a young Canadian woman from crossing the border after cannabidiol (CBD) oil was found in her backpack — a non-psychoactive product of the cannabis plant she uses to treat the painful side effects of scoliosis.

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‘There seems to be a lot of confusion with Canadians entering the U.S. with regards to CBD,’ lawyer says

A sign near Gretna, Man., warns travellers not to cross into the U.S. with cannabis. Shot Oct. 16, 2018. (Rémi Authier/CBC)

U.S. border protection has barred a young Canadian woman from crossing the border after cannabidiol (CBD) oil was found in her backpack — a non-psychoactive product of the cannabis plant she uses to treat the painful side effects of scoliosis.

The woman, who has asked not to be identified by CBC News pending the outcome of an application for reentry, is the latest Canadian to face border troubles after Canada legalized cannabis last year.

Thousands of Canadians have been denied entry to the U.S. simply for admitting they’ve smoked a joint once in their lives. Others have been banned from entering the country for life for carrying cannabis products to the border — a punishment that this unsuspecting CBD oil user could now face as well, according to immigration experts.

While some U.S. states have dismantled prohibition, cannabis possession remains a criminal offence federally and — like heroin — cannabis remains a controlled substance under U.S. federal law.

And the U.S. border is, of course, governed by federal law. Travellers are prohibited from carrying cannabis and its related products over the border — even after the federal government in Washington removed industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances in December 2018.

Pulled over for a secondary check at the Blaine, Washington crossing last weekend, the woman said she was asked by border patrol officers if she had any “leafy greens” on her person. The officer did not say the word “cannabis,” she said.

“I said no because, to me, ‘leafy greens’ is like marijuana, the actual bud, things that you smoke, recreational drugs. I use CBD daily and it’s not psychoactive, it can’t get me high at the dosage that I’ve been told to take it at,” she told CBC News.

A search of her possessions turned up a bottle of CBD oil — something she thought was perfectly legal to carry over the border, considering such products are legal in both British Columbia and Washington state.

“I didn’t think anything of it. I just always have it on me because I take it daily and because of his wording, ‘leafy greens,’ I didn’t fully understand that I needed to declare it,” she said.

CBD oil is seen displayed at The Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBExpo) trade show in New York City, New York. A Canadian woman is facing a potential lifetime ban for carrying CBD oil to a U.S. border crossing in Blaine, Washington. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

A simple oversight en route to a friend’s cabin could result in a lifetime ban on entering the United States for this woman, said immigration lawyer Len Saunders.

“There seems to be a lot of confusion with Canadians entering the U.S. with regards to CBD and THC and all the derivatives from marijuana,” said Saunders, a Blaine-based lawyer. “From my experience, if anything is coming from the marijuana plant, even if it’s an oil or a gummy candy, it seems to be grounds not only for inadmissibility and fines . but also a lifetime ban.

“Even though she made an honest mistake, if the officers deem that she has a controlled substance with her, and she admitted to it, then she’s inadmissible for the rest of her life. Even if she gets a waiver approved, she’ll still have to go through a renewal every year, two years or five years.”

The woman in question said she knew loose cannabis and joints are prohibited at the border — there are signs at the border warning travellers not to bring them — but she didn’t realize the same rules apply to the CBD oil she uses for medicinal purposes.

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She was fined $500 for failing to declare the oil, fingerprinted and subsequently denied entry to the U.S.

“I felt like a criminal and they seemed like, ‘Oh, here’s another pothead using this,'” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was treated with respect on it, considering it’s for a medical purpose.”

U.S. and Canadian flags fly on the Peace Arch monument at the U.S.-Canadian border near Blaine, Wash., and Surrey, B.C., on Sept. 26, 2018. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

She was sent away with a stack of paperwork — and an application for a special waiver through a new online portal called e-SAFE — that she must complete if she ever hopes to regain entry to the U.S.

The application, which costs $600, is required for all people denied admission to the U.S. after deportation or removal.

“It seems like a much more serious thing than anyone had ever told me when I was there at the border,” she said.

The woman is a frequent border-crosser — a student at the University of Guelph who often travels to Detroit for concerts and shopping — and said she fears she may face a lifetime of border problems because of this incident.

“In five years will it peter out, or will I have to continue advocating my whole life now because of this?” she said.

“I’m still really not sure what’s going to happen. It’s an issue I don’t want to follow me around my whole life.”

But it probably will, Saunders said. “I tell people, ‘You’re in the system for the rest of your life,'” he said.

And the waiver application process to gain reentry is an arduous one, he said. The U.S. government demands a criminal record check from the RCMP, letters of reference, a letter of remorse for past wrongs, proof of employment and documentation outlining a person’s residence and work history.

In some cases, the border agency will require a drug screening test to show a person is not still using illegal substances.

“It’s a lot of personal information that some people would prefer not to give to the U.S. government, but they have to if they want to have a waiver approved. It’s not optional. It’s required,” he said.

When asked about CBD oil, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it’s the responsibility of travellers to familiarize themselves with U.S. law before seeking entry.

“Marijuana and marijuana products are considered controlled substances under U.S. federal law. Travellers found in possession of controlled substances at U.S. ports of entry can face arrest, seizures, fines, penalties or denied entry,” the spokesperson said in a statement to CBC News. “Requirements for international travellers wishing to enter the United States are governed by and conducted in accordance with U.S. federal law, which supersedes state laws.”

Depending on the product, CBD oil usually contains only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the principal psychoactive compound in cannabis — and typically does not produce any sort of high.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a new farm bill into law last year that removed industrial hemp and its derivatives — including some forms of CBD oil — from the Controlled Substances Act, provided the THC concentration is not more than 0.3 per cent on a dry weight basis.

This move opened the floodgates for CBD-related products, with some popping up on the shelves of mainstream retailers like CVS, Walgreen’s and Rite-Aid. CVS sells CBD-infused sprays, roll-ons, creams and salves in some 800 stores.

Cars from Canada line up to cross into the U.S. in Blaine, Wash. Immigration lawyers warn past use of cannabis could lead to Canadian travellers being barred from entry into the U.S. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

Still, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not yet finalized how the new farm bill provisions will be applied to travellers.

“In light of these changes, (Customs and Border Protection) is working closely with its Partner Government Agencies (PGAs) that have regulatory purview over Cannabis Sativa L. and its by-products to assess the policy and regulatory changes and verify all importation requirements that will be necessary as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill,” the spokesperson for the U.S. border agency said.

In meantime, entry happens at the sole discretion of the U.S. customs officers on duty — and they have a lot of latitude to ask questions to determine the admissibility of a foreign national.

“(Customs and Border Protection) administers and enforces importation laws and regulations on behalf of its PGAs, and coordinates with them actively at the border,” said the agency spokesperson. “Until this interagency regulatory process is complete, and updated requirements are finalized and disseminated, existing importation protocols and trade filing guidance will remain in place.”


J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC’s parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at [email protected]

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