January 8, 2014 Updated: January 9, 2014 at 11:02 am
Starting Friday, travelers going through Colorado Springs Airport better drop their pot stash in an "amnesty box" before boarding the plane or risk up to a $2,500 fine and jail time, city officials warn.
Possession of marijuana at the airport is prohibited, said Mayor Steve Bach.
"We are enacting this rule in the best interests of public safety and in compliance with federal law," he said.
Bach said state Attorney General John Suthers advised that if Colorado Springs did not prohibit pot at the airport, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration might step in and require action.
"We have to comply with this, and we think it is the right thing to do," Bach said.
It is legal to possess up to one ounce of pot in Colorado for adults 21 and older.
But don't try to take that marijuana on the airplane; even those who have a medical marijuana prescription would be in violation of federal law, said Dan Gallagher, interim Colorado Springs aviation director. And it does not matter if the passenger is flying to another Colorado city.
Pot still is considered an illegal, controlled substance under federal law, he said, and cannot be taken on commercial aircraft.
"We are going back to meeting our federal obligation, and the federal government does not recognize medical marijuana versus recreational marijuana. So, to stay in compliance with federal law, it is marijuana, and marijuana will be prohibited," Gallagher said.
The Colorado Springs Airport is an enterprise overseen by the Colorado Springs City Council. But the airport director has the authority to make this rule without going to the council for approval, Gallagher said, because the city must respond to federal mandates.
Colorado Springs City Council is expected to discuss whether it will be illegal to smoke pot in city buildings or other areas at its Jan. 28 meeting. Denver City Council recently banned pot smoking in residential front yards.
Colorado Springs City Council president Keith King said the council also might consider an ordinance to complement the airport director's rule banning pot.
"It's fair to warn people," he said. "They shouldn't have the marijuana at the airport and how that plays out with federal issues and creates problems with the airport's federal funding."
There are three working dogs at the airport trained to detect bombs and explosives, but not necessarily drugs, said police chief Pete Carey. But all checked bags are screened by Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agency that screens airline passengers and baggage for weapons and other contraband.
If passengers pack the pot and TSA officials find it, they will call Colorado Springs Police, Carey said.
Passengers will have the opportunity to give up the pot without penalty, he said. All the marijuana placed in the special amnesty boxes will then be destroyed.
But once the doors on an aircraft are closed, the passengers are under federal law, Carey said. And, if they get caught with weed they can be fined and jailed, he said.
Denver International Airport also has banned marijuana on DIA property, and enforcement is expected to begin this month.
Signs will be posted at the Colorado Springs Airport alerting passengers of the rule, Gallagher said. Passengers could leave the pot in their cars or give it to someone to take off the airport grounds.
"The airport wants to ensure that visitors know and understand what the rule entails and make every effort to provide education and awareness," he said. "The goal is to offer a safe environment at the airport."