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Medicinal marijuana at Tampa International Airport provokes laughter, questions

Published Mar. 7, 2014

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist was being very serious Thursday when he raised a subject that caused the rest of the crowd to start giggling uncontrollably:

What should Tampa International Airport do if Florida voters or legislators approve the use of medicinal marijuana?

Crist sits on the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board, which runs TIA. He immediately said to media attending the board meeting that he was not weighing in on the issue itself.

"I'm not advocating this at all," Crist said.

But he did want to know if TIA has a plan. He wondered if the airport, which is about to undergo $1 billion in new construction, would have to create smoking areas for legal users of the drug.

The airport's answer: "Our legal staff is monitoring the issue as it evolves," spokeswoman Janet Zink said.

There's no lack of momentum on the legalization side.

In January, the Florida Supreme Court approved a ballot initiative that will let voters decide in November if this will be the first southern state to allow the use of medicinal marijuana. The measure requires the approval of 60 percent of voters.

Meanwhile, in the Florida Legislature on Wednesday, a house subcommittee approved a bill that would legalize a medicinal cannabis product. The Senate is also expected to consider it.

Twenty-two states have medicinal marijuana programs and more are considering them, according to NORML, a group that advocates for full legalization. Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational use.

Regulating air travel and pot is a bit tricky, though.

Denver allows property owners to ban marijuana, and some airports have. They can even impose fines and possible jail time. But Washington can't stop travelers from boarding with the drug.

Yet it would still be against federal law for anyone in those two states to board an airliner with pot and land in any of the other 48. Colorado Springs Airport even has "amnesty boxes" for people to dispose of their marijuana.

Federal law doesn't draw a distinction between medicinal marijuana and illegal marijuana. But while the Transportation Security Administration doesn't search for the drug, if it finds any the matter would then be referred to local law enforcement.

Crist said he was satisfied that airport officials will start looking into the issue.

Information from the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Associated Press was used in this report.