COLONIE (TNS) — Police are no longer seizing marijuana, making arrests or issuing tickets for low-level possession for travelers passing through Albany International and other airports across the state, highlighting the softening rules for cannabis as New York and dozens of other states have legalized it for adult recreational use.
Bart R. Johnson, a former State Police colonel who is the federal security director for 15 Upstate airports, said marijuana is not something that security officers are looking for when they pat down passengers or search their luggage for contraband.
New York legalized the possession of up to three ounces of marijuana in March.
"We don't seize it. We just look for threats — explosives, knives, guns; we don't look for illegally possessed narcotics," said Johnson, who is based at Albany International Airport. "When we notice something suspicious on a pat-down or something like that and then we discover that it's marijuana ... so we're looking to see if it's a threat. ... If it turns out to be something that appears to be an illegal substance, we notify law enforcement."
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, whose department patrols the airport, said deputies are occasionally summoned to the security checkpoint by Transportation Security Administration officials when they find marijuana on a traveler or in their luggage. The sheriff said they no longer issue tickets or make an arrest if the amount of marijuana appears to be less than 3 ounces.
In prior years, Apple said, his deputies and investigators had annually made dozens of arrests or issued tickets for unlawful possession of marijuana at the airport.
"We don't take it anymore," he said. "It's legal if not more than three ounces and, well, have a nice day."
The TSA is required by federal law to notify law enforcement when they discover what appears to be an illegal substance. But while marijuana is still consider illegal under federal law, the TSA is not a law enforcement agency.
In an April 2019 Instagram post, the TSA hinted at its more tolerant outlook on marijuana possession: "Are we cool? We like to think we're cool. We want you to have a pleasant experience at the airport and arrive safely at your destination. But getting caught while trying to fly with marijuana or cannabis-infused products can really harsh your mellow," the post stated, adding "#marijuana" and "#traveltips."
"Let us be blunt," the post continued, "TSA officers DO NOT search for marijuana or other illegal drugs. Our screening procedures are focused on security and detecting potential threats. But in the event a substance appears to be marijuana or a cannabis-infused product, we're required by federal law to notify law enforcement. This includes items that are used for medicinal purposes."