Arrests for cannabis smuggling at Los Angeles International Airport are up 166 percent since the legalization of marijuana in California, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. Officials at LAX reported that cannabis was discovered in checked luggage and carryon bags 503 times last year. In 2017 there were 400 reports for marijuana possession at the airport while in 2016, the year California voters legalized cannabis with the passage of Proposition 64, pot was found on 282 occasions. About 20 percent of those reports involved trafficking and the rest were related to passengers who had been found possessing weed or cannabis products in quantities consistent with personal use.
In 2018, Los Angeles Airport Police made 101 trafficking arrests, compared with 38 in 2017 and only 20 trafficking arrests in 2016, according to LAX police records. Ben Kroger, Jr., a criminal defense attorney that specializes in cannabis law, said that the legalization of marijuana in California and a resulting drop in prices has made smuggling weed to other jurisdictions a lucrative proposition.
“Since pot’s been legalized in California, there’s no money to be made because everyone got involved in it,” Kroger said. “They’ve got these big 50,000-square-foot [grow] houses, and they’re flooding the market. The money is outside of California.”
Kroger recently represented a client who had been caught at LAX with 70 pounds of cannabis in vacuum sealed bags packed in his checked baggage. The man had been brought to the attention of police after he discretely asked another passenger waiting for a flight to Philadelphia if she wanted to join his “drug smuggling ring.”
“This is normal procedure for these guys, and I would say 29 out of 30 times they make it through without a problem,” said Kroger.
LAX isn’t the only airport in California seeing a surge in cannabis smuggling after legalization. Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction over Oakland International Airport, said that officers in his department are also finding pot headed for resale in other states.
“We intercept large quantities of marijuana regularly,” said Kelly. “We find it in about 50-pound quantities … the carry-on rate for luggage. I would imagine we’re only intercepting some of it, not all of it.”
The vast majority of passengers found to be possessing pot at LAX are caught with less than an ounce of weed, an amount now legal under California law. In accordance with a new airport policy that went into effect last year, those caught with legal quantities of weed at the airport are no longer subject to arrest by local law enforcement.
“In accordance with Proposition 64, the Los Angeles Airport Police Department will allow passengers to travel through LAX with up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana. However, passengers should be aware that marijuana laws vary state by state and they are encouraged to check the laws of the states in which they plan to travel,” reads an online posting of the policy.