On Travelling with Cannabis Without Travail

cannabis travel europe eu

By Oliver Bennett, Special Contributor to New Frontier Data

Back when cannabis was illegal everywhere, travelling with it was a serious act of folly. At worst, crossing borders with cannabis could end in a situation as depicted in the 1978 thriller Midnight Express, if not even a death penalty.

Certainly, it remains highly recommended not to cross borders with cannabis of any kind. But as cannabis reforms gain favour, it is a scenario that may cross travellers’ minds. As they become habituated to cannabis in their home countries, it may also skip their minds.

Though the Schengen Area of free travel throughout the European Union has dispensed with hard borders, and encourages free movement, the EU signatories have different laws. In the Netherlands, for example, one may legally possess a few grams of cannabis, while in Slovakia that is not the case. In EU member but non-Schengen Bulgaria, mere possession of cannabis can mean a custodial sentence.

Travelers are also advised not to try bringing cannabis into or out of the U.S. – even medical cannabis. Border protection is tuned to federal law, not state law. And in all cases, should there be any discretion, carrying cannabis could be seen as trafficking – much worse than mere possession. Sniffer dogs may be waiting to greet you, and if they find cannabis a severe delay is the best outcome to hope for. What of medical cannabis? That is another matter, but again a complicated one. While medical cannabis is legal in many European jurisdictions, patients aiming to travel with it should apply for a permit, and ideally to check in with the destination’s embassy. That takes time, so should be planned well in advance of travel. Also worth noting is that while one form of medicine (i.e., oil) might be allowed, another (i.e., flower), may remain forbidden. Passengers should check in with their airlines, too, as policies differ among carriers. The takeaway is that, if possible, both medical patients and recreational users should plan to secure lawful supplies at their respective destinations as circumstances allow.

Even that is not so easy as one might think. Though the Netherlands has famously attracted tourists to cannabis-selling coffeeshops since 1976, there is now a plan to ban foreign tourists from coffeeshops – an idea recently articulated by Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema, in aims of changing its laws so that only Dutch residents can visit cannabis cafes. Allowing cannabis tourism has led to a lucrative but seedy sector – a survey found that for 60% of tourists to Amsterdam, smoking cannabis was their chief reason for visiting – a distinct departure from the more upmarket dispensaries found in Colorado, California, or Canada. As Halsema explained, the idea is to dial down cannabis tourism in favour of cultural tourism.

The move has already been credited with pushing cannabis tourism trade towards Catalonia and its regional capital Barcelona, where hundreds of cannabis clubs offer opportunities and settings for recreational cannabis use. The clubs have a different vetting process, with membership required.

Other destinations might include decriminalised areas of Germany, such as Lower Saxony and Bavaria  where citizens may possess up to 6 grams of cannabis, or in Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia, where the limit is 10 grams. In its capital Berlin, up to 15 grams is effectively decriminalised – leading residents to express concerns that it may lead to Amsterdam-style canna-tourism. Other possible destinations include the Czech capital Prague, or Switzerland, while in the 84-acre autonomous Freetown Christiania Denmark, its so-called “Green Light District” openly sells cannabis around the clock. 

Those are recreational concerns. But what of CBD, in all its forms? That, too, necessitates thought and preparation, as it is entirely possible that customs officers will take exception to CBD products. Even where allowed, declaring it may be a nuisance. Taking it outside Europe is certainly not recommended, particularly not in places such as Dubai in the UAE, where unfortunate travellers have been prosecuted for the most minor infractions involving cannabis products.

Anyone travelling from the U.S. (where 47 of 50 states allow CBD in some form) should be careful. Mexico only allows only medical CBD usage. In Europe, country’s such as the U.K. and Germany are fine to travel to, provided that CBD products match their own, with products containing less than 0.2% of THC. Yet in France (where CBD cannot contain THC) there might be a problem, and of all places, the Netherlands requires CBD products to contain less than 0.05% THC.

Situations regarding travel are likely to change slowly as reforms take hold. Pending such changes, it remains the traveller’s duty to confirm that what they hope to travel with is not only legal in the destination country, but any layover countries, too. As precaution, any patient using a prescribed product should carry along the prescription with a doctor’s note – and never make any assumption that it will be okay to travel with cannabis in any form.