Flying with prescription pot? CATSA has finally clarified the rules

After more than a decade of confusion at Canada's airports, the country's air transport security authority is now providing guidance to passengers travelling with prescription cannabis.

Passengers told to bring paperwork and be prepared to talk to the police

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority's new guidelines for passengers flying with medical marijuana include keeping the drug and all relevant paperwork in carry-on luggage while travelling. (CBC)

After more than a decade of confusion at Canada's airports, the country's air transport security authority is now providing guidance to passengers travelling with prescription cannabis.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority website, updated yesterday, now tells people travelling with prescription pot to be prepared to show medical documentation and that screening officers are obliged to call police to verify the paperwork. That is, unless the airport doesn't have officers on site.

"In airports where there is not a police presence the passenger's information is noted from their boarding pass (name, air carriers and departure time) and passed along to local authorities," a security authority spokesperson said in an email.

While passengers may carry their medical marijuana in their checked luggage, CATSA recommends they carry all medication in their carry-on.

The updated website guidelines follow a CBC News report about the difficulties passengers have experienced while trying to fly domestically with their medical marijuana. The complaints were contained in documents obtained by CBC under the Access to Information Act.

Some people reported long delays waiting for police to arrive and check their documents, and others said they felt humiliated after being questioned by police in front of fellow passengers.

Given that Health Canada estimates more than 82,000 Canadians are registered to buy pot from licensed producers, CBC had asked why the CATSA website offered no helpful information for people travelling with prescription cannabis. 

"We are following Transport Canada's direction on this specific issue. A policy issue would come from Transport Canada," a spokesman said.

Yet Transport Canada said CATSA is entirely in charge of what it decides to post on its website.

'Put it in your carry-on' 

Brent Zettl is just happy his clients now have access to official guidelines. He's the president of CanniMed, a licensed producer of pharmaceutical-grade marijuana.

"Very often [clients] had to wait for confirmation from the police who would come, and so forth, and it would invariably delay their travel plans," he said.

Zettl decided to post his own set of helpful tips for travelling with cannabis after clients repeatedly told him about getting hassled at the airport. He recommends that air travellers:

  • Keep herbs and oils in their original containers. 
  • Bring their Health Canada registration certificate. 
  • Call airports ahead of time
  • Pack cannabis in carry-on luggage.

"Put it in to the carry-on luggage to carry it with them in their possession, because if the dogs go into the back and they smell it, they'll pull the luggage off actually, so you've got to have it with you," said Zettl.

Although Zettl said he's pleased with the new information, he remains confounded by the double-standard that allows people to fly with powerful prescription drugs such as opioids without a second glance.

"As long as marijuana remains illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada, screening officers will continue to notify police when it is discovered during the course of a search," said a CATSA spokesperson.


Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?