Now that recreational marijuana is permitted in nearly half of U.S. states and counting, a reasonable assumption might be that pot is legal to use on a cruise ship that boards in a state where cannabis is no longer outlawed.
But that assumption is not correct, and this year Carnival Cruise Line has been vocal about saying so.
In a video uploaded in February, Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy linked cannabis to unruly behavior (rightly or wrongly) when she made clear that her cruise company wouldn’t stand for the substance on Carnival ships.
“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,” Duffy explained in the video.
Some passengers might smell marijuana smoke wafting from other stateroom balconies after a day spent ashore, but the prohibition applies to pot purchased at ports of call as well (and by the way, it’s a really stupid idea to buy drugs when you’re abroad).
Marijuana products are simply illegal by federal law, so they’re banned across the entire fleets of pretty much every cruise line and river cruise company.
Included in the prohibition are delta-8 and cannabinoid hemp products. As long as a substance is a cannabinoid, it’s covered by the blanket ban on marijuana products.
CBD oil is explicitly banned for the same reason in Viking’s passenger cruise contract and by Disney Cruise Line. But even on other cruise lines that don’t call out CBD oil by name, it’s still forbidden as a cannabinoid.
And the rule cannot be relaxed for people who use cannabis with a prescription. “For guests using medical marijuana, you should consult with your physician about an alternative therapy during your cruise,” Carnival’s Duffy said in the February video.
Because the policy is based on U.S. federal law, you won’t find a cruise line based in America that has a different perspective, even when the company’s ships sail in other countries. Although Carnival has fought the most public battles with weed fans, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, and Celebrity Cruises are all in accord, along with any other major cruise line you could name.
Eleven years later, in 2023, Heald said in a March 27 video blog (start at 7:42) that specially trained dogs are sometimes carried on board to sniff guests on their way to satisfy their munchies at dinner.
Not every cruise line has retained canines to police passengers when they’re at leisure—that seems to be a choice that only Carnival felt the need to make—but other cruise lines have different policies on how they enforce the ban.
Passengers who are caught with marijuana risk being denied boarding or getting ejected at the next port. Those caught smoking or vaping may also be hit with a smoking penalty, which on Carnival is $500. Cruise lines could even choose to report you to law enforcement at the nearest port, potentially putting you in legal jeopardy in two countries.
Whether drug-sniffing dogs are capable of telling the difference between marijuana flower (smokeable pot) and variant products such as cannabis edibles is a matter the cruise lines would like you to keep wondering about.
Since cruise lines are obligated to follow the letter of federal law, they’re not about to help passengers figure out how to beat their detection methods. It should probably be enough to know that dogs can be trained to detect cannabis in something like a gummy just as they can be trained to detect marijuana in its more basic forms. So whether the dogs will go after the whiff of smuggled edibles is a matter for the trainers to determine.
Even if the dogs miss you, your fellow passengers might not. Because smoking is forbidden in so many areas of cruise ships, some of your fellow passengers are likely to be hypervigilant about reporting any suspicious aromas. (Yes, cruise lines are legally allowed to ransack your cabin to look for forbidden substances.)
The Marijuana Policy Project is advocating for the U.S. government to bring its federal cannabis criminal policies in line with the states and public opinion, but considering current levels of dysfunction in Congress, progress has been slow.
Even if federal marijuana law reform were to finally happen, smoking is still banned outside of designated areas on all cruise ships, regardless of the substance.
If you need your weed fix on vacation, there’s only one way to consume without running afoul of the rules: on shore in a destination where it’s legal. Partake while you’re ashore, though, because you’ll have to leave that cannabis behind.
When it comes to marijuana and cruise ships, the only thing you’re legally allowed to bring past the gangway is a high you got somewhere else.