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We asked: Can you bring weed on a cruise?

By The Way Concierge tackles the legality of marijuana on the high seas

(Illustration by María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post)
5 min

Traveling has always come with complications. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

As more states legalize recreational or medicinal marijuana, we wanted to address a question many travelers have: Can you bring weed on a cruise?

Cruise ships are known for offering their passengers a dizzying array of choices: dozens of restaurants and bars, constant activities, shore excursions galore. But when it comes to one particular indulgence — weed — there is no option but to leave it behind.

Possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law, and cruise lines have to follow federal regulations. As a result, they don’t allow any type of marijuana products on board. Similar to the rules around weed and flying, that applies even if a ship is departing from a state such as Washington, where recreational pot is legal, and going somewhere such as Alaska, where the substance is also allowed.

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Although cruise ships sail around the world, the industry is biggest in North America — which is why major operators focus on U.S. laws. But lines based in other global destinations also don’t allow marijuana.

“In case there’s any confusion, let me remind guests that while marijuana and cannabis products may be legal in some states, we are required to follow federal law irrespective of the law in the state where you may be boarding your ship,” Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy said in a video address last month. Carnival is one of the world’s largest cruise lines.

Medical marijuana is also not allowed — again, even if it’s legal in the state where the cruise departs. Florida, home to some of the world’s busiest cruise ports, allows the use of medical marijuana, but that doesn’t translate to ships leaving from those ports.

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“While certain CBD products used for medicinal purposes may be legal in the US, they are not legal in all the ports we visit and therefore are also considered prohibited items,” Carnival says in its smoking policy. “Guests will need to consult with their physician for other suitable alternatives.”

The rules are spelled out in cruise lines’ codes of conduct, ticket contracts, policies or frequently asked questions. Disney Cruise Line, for example, specifies that any drug paraphernalia used for marijuana, cannabis and hemp is prohibited, as well as items that contain THC or cannabidiol, known as CBD. The operator says the rules are in place to comply with federal regulations in the United States as well as with local laws in destinations its ships visit.

David Olson, a criminal defense attorney in West Palm Beach, Fla., said the person most likely to get caught is one who smokes or uses marijuana in a way that’s obvious to others. He said others might try more discreet ways to bring products on board, such as oil cartridges or edibles.

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“But it doesn’t make it any less illegal,” he said.

The rules are not limited to U.S.-based cruises. Carnival says marijuana is prohibited across its fleet, even for ships that sail outside the country. Several river cruise lines that operate in Europe, including Uniworld, AmaWaterways, Avalon and Viking, told The Washington Post that marijuana is not allowed on board.

In its contract for non-U.S. ports, Viking, which operates ocean, river and expedition cruises, points out that marijuana and CBD oil are “strictly prohibited in many jurisdictions visited and on all Ships at all times,” as well as during shore excursions, regardless of local laws.

Before a cruise, passengers and their bags go through security screening at the port. Bags may get additional inspection if anything is spotted that raises a red flag.

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Many operators warn that passengers who violate drug laws can be prohibited from boarding a ship if they are caught with marijuana at the cruise terminal or forced to leave during a cruise. Viking says that travelers are “subject to being reported to law enforcement or customs authorities, arrest and prosecution,” and cautions that staterooms or baggage could be searched at any time.

Royal Caribbean International details possible penalties, including confiscation of illegal substances, reporting the violation to law enforcement and refusing to let someone start or finish a cruise.

“Jurisdictions throughout the voyage may have strict laws that address and severely punish drug possession,” the cruise company says.

Duffy, the Carnival president, said the operator has added more security personnel and introduced drug-sniffing dogs in ports. Anyone caught violating smoking policies faces a $500 fine from the cruise line as well.

“So our guests shouldn’t be surprised if they even see dogs come on board at both our home ports and destination … ports to make random searches,” she said.

Carolyn Latti, a maritime attorney based in Boston, said in an email that cruise lines can inspect cabins and kick travelers off a ship for possession. Depending on the location, passengers could face fines or other legal penalties, she said. They would also not qualify for a refund and would have to travel back home at their own expense.

“Cruising with weed is high risk on the high seas,” she said.

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