Pubdate: Fri, 31 Jan 2014
Source: Reporter, The (Lansdale, PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Reporter
Author: William Saletan
Note: William Saletan covers science, technology and politics for Slate.


"Among the many oddities that have arisen from marijuana legalization 
in Washington and Colorado is this: It can be easier to get through 
airport security with a bag of weed than a bottle of water."

That's the opening sentence of an Associated Press dispatch this week 
from Colorado: The article goes on to explain: 
"The Transportation Security Administration makes travelers empty 
their water bottles, but when agents encounter personal amounts of 
marijuana at security checkpoints, they typically don't call the DEA or FBI."

This is madness, right?

Wrong. It's perfectly sane. In fact, it illustrates how strange the 
world can seem to us when our intuitions and traditions are replaced 
by rationality.

TSA limits carry-on containers of any liquid, including water, to 100 
milliliters, i.e., 3.4 ounces. That's because of a 2006 plot to blow 
up planes using "liquid explosives disguised as commonly consumed UK 
beverages." In 2010, TSA administrator John Pistole indicated that 
the plot may have involved "sodas and water." The problem, he 
explained, "is that liquid explosives don't look any different than 
regular liquids on the X-ray monitor."

Why, then, doesn't TSA forbid all water? In 2008, then-TSA 
administrator Kip Hawley reported that lab tests determined the 100 
milliliter threshold adequately "limits the effect of, and even the 
ability of, a detonation." He added: "We try to prohibit the minimum 
possible from a security standpoint. Also, the consequence of banning 
all liquids is a large increase in the number of checked bags, which 
creates its own issues."

In other words, airport security involves tradeoffs. Every second TSA 
officers have to spend on marginal threats such as pocket knives and 
small liquid containers is a second they're distracted from more 
serious possibilities.

That's why it can be, and should be, easier to get through airport 
security with a bag of weed than a bottle of water. Unless you've 
figured out how to disguise a plane-exploding bomb as an ounce of 
pot, your baggie isn't worth a TSA officer's time.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom