Pictured: Denver International Airport (Craig F. Walker, Denver Post file)

Despite ban at Denver airport, no weed seized, zero citations

Signs posted around Denver International Airport warn passengers of stiff fines if they are caught with marijuana.

So far, though, Denver police have not cited anyone for possession and have not confiscated any marijuana products since airport officials banned pot in January.

Ten people have been stopped trying to take marijuana through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, airport spokesman Heath Montgomery said Thursday. They all cooperated when police asked them to dispose of their pot.

“To have contact with 10 people out of millions passing through, it tells me most people are abiding by the rules and this is not a major issue,” Montgomery said.

In December, the airport became the first city facility to prohibit marijuana possession on its property.

The new policy includes a maximum fine of $999 for violators.

Airport officials imposed the ban because the drug remains illegal under federal laws and the federal government regulates the aviation industry.

“Rather than weave through a web of difficult issues, we decided to make it illegal on airport property,” said Julie Smith, an airport spokeswoman.

Some worried that Colorado visitors would try to take home green, leafy souvenirs, and airport officials didn’t want to be a part of marijuana crossing state lines.

But those who have been watching the airport’s marijuana enforcement believe the low numbers mean visitors are complying with state law.

No one would speculate how many people might be successfully sneaking pot aboard airplanes.

Pot tourism: Is legal pot making for busier-than-ever traffic at Denver’s airport? It’s certainly a contributing factor. See how DIA broke all January records in the first month of 2014, right as legal pot sales began in Colorado.

Denver City Councilman Christopher Herndon, whose district includes DIA, said he interpreted the lack of arrests as a sign the airport has been successful in making its point that it is illegal to bring pot on a plane.

“It seems people are complying,” he said.

Rob Corry, a Denver lawyer who advocates for marijuana and represents people on related charges, agreed that compliance may very well be the case.

“It would seem like people are exercising their rights in Colorado and then going back to where they came from and not taking marijuana with them,” Corry said.

He also commended Denver police for being reasonable when they confront someone with marijuana at the airport.

“The airport prohibits it, but it may not be a criminal offense,” Corry said. “That’s the right approach.”

If TSA workers catch someone with marijuana in their luggage, they call Denver police, who have jurisdiction at the airport, Smith said.

Sonny Jackson, a police department spokesman, said officers tell people to throw away their pot or return it to their cars or to the people who brought them to the airport.

“They’re not trying to smoke it in the airport,” Jackson said.

Since it is legal to possess pot in small quantities, police have not arrested anyone carrying it at the airport, he said.

If police decided to cite someone for having pot at the airport, it would be an administrative charge under airport rules, not a criminal charge, Montgomery said. The fine for a first offense is $150.

Related: When the TSA at Aspen’s airport intercepted 36 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles in a traveler’s luggage, it raised many questions for local law enforcement

Some Colorado airports, including Colorado Springs, have installed amnesty boxes where people can dispose of their marijuana without consequences before they board an airplane.

But the Denver airport, which is on track to have 25 million passengers in the first six months of the year, does not need those, Montgomery said. There are just too few cases of people being forced to give it up.

“The way we have been handling this,” he said, “demonstrates we are not being heavy-handed about this.”

Noelle Phillips: 303-954-1661, nphillips@denverpost.com or twitter.com/noelle_phillips

This story was first published on DenverPost.com