Though not a frequent flyer under normal conditions, I have, as of the date of this article, been a passenger on exactly eleven flights, including layovers, since much of the nation underwent varying degrees of lockdowns in response to the pandemic. I suspect this places my flight activity above average in terms of overall frequency, making me a bit more attuned than many people toward the subtleties of flying amidst public health emergencies and stringent social distancing measures.
I’ve written about the subject previously. But only during a recent layover at O’Hare International (ORD) did I encounter this surprising receptacle.
Perhaps this is my naïveté getting the best of me, since I didn’t necessarily fly all that much before the world bolted itself shut. But I genuinely think that, at this point in time, the green box is a relative novelty (enough that I’m going out on a limb by even branding it a “green box”.) A quick bit of research suggests that it’s not all that common; in fact these receptacles at ORD might very well be pioneering the practice. The Cannabis Amnesty Box, according to The Green Fund, involves a partnership between the Chicago Department of Aviation and the Chicago Police Department to manage the substance, which still counts as contraband both federally and in nearly forty states. (Medical marijuana is legal across a broader array of states, but recreational use remains fairly limited.) Concomitant with the legalization of cannabis dispensaries in Illinois as of the 1st of January this year, the aviation department recognized the need to manage the product to avoid problems with people departing ORD to jurisdictions where marijuana remains illegal. No doubt learning from other states that had legalized pot before Illinois, airport confiscations at the Transportation Security Authority checkpoints would become routine, and these Cannabis Amnesty boxes allow passengers to safely (and more or less anonymously) dispose of marijuana before emplaning. At least at ORD, it is illegal to carry the drug onto planes, but people mistakenly bring it along into the terminal, forgetting that what might be legal in Illinois is not likely to remain so in their final destination.
While there’s little additional nuance to the subject, a few other minor details merit discussion. I referred to this as a green box because that’s what it was during my late November trip to ORD, but the article I’ve cited from earlier in the year shows it as blue. At that time, the airport authority was working with a temporary design, yet, on the same day that The Green Fund introduced the Cannabis Amnesty Box, it reported that someone had stolen the contents from inside it over at Midway (MDW), O’Hare’s sister airport. (Both articles are from April 20—who woulda thunk?) Perhaps that pilfering prompted the Chicago Department of Aviation to remodel the Cannabis Amnesty Box, improving its security and shifting the color to green. Given that the prevailing color scheme at TSA is blue, the use of a different color may help give the boxes more visual prominence, not to mention that it’s a more intuitive hue to signal any and all cannabis related products.
It remains to be seen if these Cannabis Amnesty Boxes become a ubiquitous feature in airports, like cell phone charging “trees” or, as I’ve noticed on occasion, old phone booths repurposed as charging stations. But the decentralization of marijuana’s legality results in inevitably atomized enforcement: California’s permissive laws have prompted the Los Angeles Airport Police Division (APD) to decriminalize certain quantities of marijuana possession into the terminal at LAX; however, since TSA is a federal activity, the checkpoints remain subject to federal enforcement. Therefore, TSA applies the federal policy, which is to report cannabis possession to the local authorities, without taking into account the passenger’s destination. The local authorities then respond according to laws in place, which may or may not account for destinations, since smuggling of marijuana through air travel has become increasingly common. Obviously if the destination is safe (somewhere in Colorado, for example), the APD is unlikely to confiscate, but what if it isn’t? It seems like a cumbersome measure to send local authorities to the TSA checkpoints every time someone has weed, especially if the quantity/weight determines its legality.
This added layer of bureaucratic bloat may help impel aviation authorities in California, Washington, Alaska or other states with legal weed to adopt the green box, since it is unlikely that the substance will become legal nationwide any time soon. And while at this time the authorities at ORD and MDW dispose of the marijuana that accumulates in the green box, the authorities at Twitter have advocated for reusing the marijuana, either as a hearty welcome to a permissive state or even a source of revenue for reselling. Granted, Twitter is not real life, and the the big brains in that echo chamber floated this idea before coronavirus made it dangerous to shake hands. Granted, the man who purloined the contents of the blue-at-the-time green box MDW earlier this year did so while COVID was at a peak, so maybe the craving for a toke will supersede the risk of catching the coof…? Only time will tell.