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Colorado Springs officials consider banning pot from airport, other city facilities

January 3, 2014 Updated: January 3, 2014 at 9:20 pm
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Colorado Springs Airport officials have not yet announced a policy concerning passengers traveling with marijuana.

A cloud of confusion regarding whether commercial airline passengers in Colorado can take marijuana with them when traveling resulted in a flurry of meetings on Friday among Colorado Springs Airport officials trying to sort through policies.

Late Friday, airport officials issued a statement saying the Colorado Springs mayor and police chief are evaluating options in regard to marijuana possession at the airport and other city facilities.

"This is a complex issue and the City of Colorado Springs is working to determine what a prohibition would encompass from a legal and law enforcement standpoint and the best method to implement such a restriction," the statement said.

There's no need to stash your stash, though, if you're traveling out of Pueblo Memorial Airport, where your weed can fly sky-high with you.

With Wednesday's statewide legalization of recreational marijuana, Pueblo Memorial Airport is allowing passengers 21 years and older and possessing less than 1 ounce to carry their pot along.

"As long as it meets the legal requirements, we're allowing it," said Mark Lovin, aviation director for the city-owned Pueblo Memorial Airport.

Passengers also can put marijuana in checked baggage.

"In the first few days, we haven't seen anything going through," Lovin said. "My sense is we're not going to see a whole lot."

Colorado's largest airport, Denver International, is not on board with the idea. Lovin said the Pueblo airport soon will have signs warning passengers of DIA restrictions.

Possession of marijuana has been banned on DIA property, said Heath Montgomery, director of media relations. Enforcement is expected to begin this month.

It's also not welcomed at Eagle County Regional Airport, said Greg Phillips, aviation director. The county prohibits marijuana at its facilities and buildings, he said, including the airport, which serves the mountain towns of Vail, Minturn, Red Cliff and Gypsum.

"There are a couple of policies at play, including the county resolution banning marijuana," he said. "Another issue is the TSA checkpoint, which is technically federal, so federal regulations apply. But it's not an expectation that anybody would be arrested, just not allowed to bring it with them."

Passengers attempting to board with marijuana will be able to take it back to their car, Phillips said.

Another consideration, he said, is that most other states have not legalized recreational marijuana possession or use.

"Somebody flying from Colorado may legally possess it here, but what happens when you're flying to New York or Chicago? It's not legal there," he said.

The Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agency that screens airline passengers and baggage for weapons and other contraband, has not changed its policies regarding marijuana, said Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman and public affairs manager.

"TSA's screening procedures, which are governed by federal law, are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. As has always been the case, if during the security screening procedures, an officer discovers an item that may violate the law, TSA refers the matter to law enforcement. Law enforcement officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation," according to a statement from Dankers.

The TSA website states that medical and nonmedical marijuana are not permissible items for commercial airline passengers, and adds, "Whether or not marijuana is considered medical marijuana federal law provides no basis to treat medical marijuana differently than non-medical marijuana."

And once the doors on an aircraft are closed, the passengers are under federal law.

But Lovin said because Colorado law now permits marijuana possession, TSA agents will adhere to local law.

"They still contact local law enforcement if they see anything that's potentially a violation of code or law," he said. "Since marijuana is not locally illegal for possession, it's probably not going to be an issue."

Retail marijuana is being sold in unincorporated Pueblo County but is prohibited in the city limits of Pueblo.

Some airports are still figuring out how to handle the new issue. The Telluride Regional Airport is working on a policy to present to its board in a few weeks, said airport manager Rich Nuttall, adding that there is no indication yet of which way the ruling will go.

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