Nevada was 1 of 4 states to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21 in November 2016. While possession of up to an ounce of the plant became legal on January 1, 2017, legal sales did not begin until July 1. Sale of the plant has gone through the roof, exceeding expectations. While residents and visitors are not allowed to consume the plant in public and it is banned for use on the Las Vegas Strip, hotels and casinos, its legalization has still been a draw for many with McCarran International Airport seeing approximately 48 million passengers last year. While marijuana is legal for recreational use in 8 states (that make up approximately 20 percent of the country) and legal for medical use in 29 states, it is still illegal at a federal level. This makes the issue of traveling with the plant, either recreationally or for medical reasons, a tricky issue.
The Original Rules
From January 1, 2017 until last September, if passengers were caught with marijuana on Department of Aviation grounds, Metro Police were called in to evaluate whether the amount found was in line with state law. If passengers exceeded the allowed amount, they were arrested and charged with a felony. If they possessed a legal amount by Nevada law, they were released and allowed to leave with their marijuana.
The New Ordinance
A new county ordinance was put in place, becoming active in October last year, which once again prohibited the possession of marijuana on airport grounds. This means that those caught with under an ounce have their marijuana confiscated and are given a citation and those caught with more are arrested and charged with a felony.
In order to assist passengers in abiding by these new regulations, McCarran International Airport has installed amnesty drop boxes all around the airport grounds, so that passengers can dispose of their leftover product in a safe, legal and easy way. So far 13 boxes have been installed around the airport and officials plan to install at least 7 more at Henderson Executive Airport, North Las Vegas Airport and other areas of McCarran. The boxes are green and easy to locate in the high traffic areas where they have been placed. They are monitored, serviced regularly and a company has been hired to pick up the deposited marijuana so it can be disposed of safely.
“The drawer pulls out; you drop your stuff in and you close it. You can’t really get your hand in there,” says Christine Crews, who is a spokesperson for McCarran. “If you start tampering with them, you’d be detected pretty quickly.”
With so many tourists going through Las Vegas, the metal bins offer a way to enjoy state law without happening upon any federal issues. The safe disposal of the plant is also an important part of keeping it out of the hands of children, who should not have access to medication or adult recreational substances such as marijuana, alcohol or cigarettes. Las Vegas police Officer Aden Ocampo-Gomez said that so far no citations have been issued as a result of the ban on marijuana in Nevada airports.