Agents with the Transportation Security Administration found 36 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles on Monday in a traveler’s luggage at the Aspen airport.
The TSA turned the case over to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, which declined to pursue charges against the person. That is because the person was doing nothing wrong, at least under state law, said Brad Gibson, director of investigations with the sheriff’s office.
But there is a chance that a federal case could be made out of the edibles. The airport is a county-owned facility that also involves federal jurisdiction.
As such, the TSA sometimes contacts the FBI in such cases, but in others the TSA will call the sheriff’s office directly, Gibson said.
“The law is so new nobody is sure what to do,” he said. “Every call is a little different.”
Gibson said that once passengers get into the security line and then onto a plane, they are in the TSA’s domain. While it was legalized in the state in December 2012, marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
“The FBI will enforce federal law,” said Dave Joly, an agency spokesman.
He acknowledged, though, that Colorado’s legalization of the drug places law enforcement in “uncharted territory.”
A person theoretically could be charged with a federal crime related to introducing contraband into a secured area, Joly said.
Lauren Maytin is an attorney with the Aspen firm of Edson, Maytin and Matz, which consults with marijuana businesses on the law. She believes federal agencies like the FBI are not concentrating on marijuana concentrates like those found at the Aspen airport.
“They’re not prosecuting for petty amounts,” she said. “Unless you’re talking about major poundage, they’re turning it over to the local authorities, and the locals are saying, ‘It’s legal.’”
Joly agreed, to a certain degree. He said while the FBI is not actively looking for marijuana cases, agents will continue to seize cannabis and attempt to bring charges against the person possessing it.
He gave the example of a search warrant the FBI carried out recently in southern Colorado. The warrant allowed agents to enter a home to search a person’s computer hard drive and related equipment. While inside, they found 15 plants and 8 pounds of dried marijuana, Joly said.
The person was arrested for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, along with the computer-related crimes.
“We can’t turn a blind eye to it,” Joly said. “We have to enforce federal law.”
Back in Aspen, sheriff’s deputies seized the edibles, a mixture of cookies, brownies and candies, sealed them in an evidence bag and placed them in a locker. They will eventually be incinerated.
Sheriff’s deputy Alex Burchetta said his office will still investigate marijuana cases, especially if they involve minors or packaging methods that lead police to suspect the person intends to distribute the drug.
Monday’s seizure involved 12 individual bags of dope-filled desserts. Burchetta said it’s difficult to determine if that indicates an intent to distribute or was for personal use.
Maytin said that if she had a client who had been arrested for a scenario like Monday’s, she would “absolutely” employ a personal-use defense.
The Colorado Constitution allows adults over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.
But when it comes to edibles, the law is unclear as to whether police, in calculating if a person has more than an ounce, are to consider the total weight or strictly go by the amount of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, present in a food item, Gibson said.
To avoid these types of situations, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo is attempting to place an amnesty box near the TSA security checkpoint that would allow travelers to dispose of their weed and cannabis products with no questions asked.
While the green goodies in Monday’s case weighed 36 ounces, the total amount of THC was roughly three-quarters of an ounce, putting the amount within state law. That was another reason no criminal charges were pursued, Gibson said.
“It’s really difficult to know or understand at this point what weight you’d use,” he said. “The law’s not real clear on that.
“I think there’s going to continue to be a gray area for some time.”