Inaugural China Airlines Flight

The inaugural China Airlines flight from Taipei to Fairbanks taxis to its gate after it landed at Fairbanks International Airport on Friday, December 4, 2015.

FAIRBANKS — Airline passengers departing Fairbanks International Airport with up to an ounce of marijuana no longer will be forced to give up their pot, officials with the Transportation Security Administration and airport police said Wednesday.

A local marijuana activist had sued after the TSA flagged his marijuana, and he turned it over to the Airport Police and Fire Department. 

Frank Berardi got his 8 grams of pot back Monday after securing a court order.

The lawsuit shed light on a misunderstanding between the TSA and airport police about whether people are allowed to pass through the TSA checkpoint at Fairbanks International Airport with marijuana.

Airport Police Chief Sean Martines said it was his agency’s understanding that the TSA treated marijuana like it treats knives, ammunition and other prohibited items. TSA agents have told him as much, he said. 

“It’s their call what goes on the plane,” Martines said.  

It turns out the TSA is not prohibiting marijuana to pass through its checkpoint at the Fairbanks International Airport.

Agency spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said the TSA doesn’t consider marijuana a security threat as it does items such as aerosols, firecrackers and flammable liquids.

“We are looking for security threats to the aviation system,” she said.

The TSA will continue to flag any marijuana that a passenger is carrying, Dankers said. Airport police still will be called in accordance with TSA policy across the United States, she said.

But airport police get to decide how to proceed from there, she said. “It’s up to their discretion what happens next.” 

Fairbanks airport police no longer will operate under the belief that the TSA is refusing to let passengers through their security checkpoint with marijuana, Martines said.

“Our position is that marijuana is legal,” he said. “When we show up because they call us, if it’s legally possessed, as far as we are concerned that person can go about and do whatever they want with their marijuana.”

Berardi said he is gratified that his lawsuit led to a change in the system. “I think it’s a really responsible decision for them to make.” 

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.