Carnival embarking drug dogs to stop onboard weed use

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Sorry, weed smokers. Carnival Cruise Line has become what those who imbibe might consider a buzzkill.

Despite continued momentum in the United States toward decriminalizing the drug or making it legal for medical and/or recreational use, Carnival has recently taken a sharp turn in the opposite direction by deploying drug detection dogs to deter passengers from bringing weed aboard its “fun ships.”

Dogs are routinely brought on board to inspect embarking passengers and their carry-on luggage, according to social media posts by recent cruisers.

It’s part of a new crackdown not just on weed, but on “people behaving badly” aboard cruises, Carnival CEO Christine Duffy explained in a video distributed to passengers in late February, just as spring break sailings were getting underway.

“It’s happening at stores, restaurants, sporting events, at schools, on airplanes, at theme parks, and yes, on cruise ships too,” Duffy said in the video.

Measures include adding security personnel to all of the cruise line’s ships, “and we’ve introduced narcotics-sniffing dogs at home ports to screen luggage on both a routine and random basis,” she said. “So our guests shouldn’t be surprised if they see guests come on board at both our home ports and our destination out-ports to make random searches.

“Illegal drugs, including marijuana, on cruise ships and at cruise terminals, is prohibited,” she said. While marijuana 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,” she said.

Guests who use medical marijuana should “consult with your physician about an alternative therapy during your cruise,” she said.

“Consequences” for not complying with Carnival’s code of behavior include fines, being confined to cabins, or being removed from the ship and banned from future sailings, she said.

Other measures to deter misbehavior include a 1 a.m. youth curfew for passengers 17 and under unless with adults 21 or over and a $500 fine for fighting, unwanted touching or pushing, she said.

In addition to alerting future passengers about the heightened enforcement measures, Carnival is reinforcing the message onboard it ships in videos featuring Shaquille O’Neal, the cruise line’s “chief fun officer.”

Carnival spokesman Matt Lupoli declined to answer specific questions about the frequency of drug dog deployment, or whether specific complaints or incidents prompted the new policies.

“I can’t go into further detail because it’s part of our security operations,” Lupoli said by phone.

The drug detection dogs, first deployed last fall, are owned by Carnival, he said, and not by law enforcement agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection or the Transportation Safety Administration. Headquartered in Doral, Carnival Cruise Line currently sails from Florida ports in Miami, Brevard County, Jacksonville, and Tampa.

Though disclosed in videos this year, attention to Carnival’s use of the dogs was amplified in a recent Facebook post by John Heald, the company’s “Fun Ambassador.”

Heald disclosed that the policy was working and would continue. “Let me say that they have, along with our no-tolerance rules and enforcement, made a massive difference to the problem of people thinking it is legal and [that they are] allowed to use marijuana on their cruise. It isn’t.”

Heald continued, “These uber-intelligent and highly trained dogs are used at embarkation and occasionally, not every cruise on every ship, will sail as well with their handlers.” Passengers who are allergic to dogs need not be concerned, he said. The ships “are large enough for this not (to) be a concern.”

Responses from Heald’s Facebook followers was overwhelmingly positive.

One follower said that “the smell of weed was so strong on our balcony, on our last few cruises, that it made me nauseous to set out there.”

Another follower said, “We sailed on New Years Eve, and the smell of pot was everywhere, it was bad. We sailed again in March and the dog was there, and no smell of pot on board.”

Marijuana has always been illegal onboard ships operated by every cruise line that sails from the U.S., and likely, everywhere else in the world.

Yet on a three-night cruise to Bimini in June 2022, the smell of marijuana flower was pervasive even in Carnival Conquest’s precruise check-in area, and onboard, the smell of burning weed was unmistakable from private balconies and around the ship’s outdoor smoking area.

Other major cruise lines, including Norwegian, MSC, Royal Caribbean and Virgin, did not respond to emails asking whether they also are deploying drug detection dogs. Carnival’s ticket contract, similar to other cruise lines’, states that marijuana and other controlled substances are prohibited and may not be brought on board any Carnival ship.

Guests agree that Carnival can search their cabins, luggage and personal effects “at all times and without notice” to ensure compliance. Guests who refuse such screenings or are caught with such items “may be denied boarding or disembarked” with no refund, the policy states.

Despite Carnival’s enhanced enforcement, weed users who cruise have some options.

Some states that have legalized recreational use have allowed dispensaries to open near cruise ports. Port states that allow recreational use by adults include New York, California and Alaska. A handful of international cruise destinations have also legalized weed, including Canada and Uruguay.

In January, the U.S. Virgin Islands authorized recreational and sacramental use of marijuana for anyone 21 and older.

Other nations that show up on lists of “pot-friendly” locations have varying laws that users should learn about ahead of time. In The Netherlands, for example, long famous for its tolerance to marijuana use, residents are allowed to buy and use it in certain coffee shops, but tourists legally are not.

While many Caribbean nations have begun decriminalizing marijuana, it remains illegal throughout much of the region.

Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of sellers converging on disembarked cruisers in island nations where it remains illegal, including in The Bahamas, the closest island destination for cruise lines with home ports in Florida. Would-be buyers should be extremely careful, however, as the internet is full of stories of undercover police targeting American tourists looking for weed.

Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime attorney, scoffed at Carnival’s new drug-detection policy, noting that the cruise line, like most cruise lines, heavily promote alcohol sales. “It’s obviously geared toward making certain that the only depressants used by cruise guests is booze sold by Carnival,” Walker said in an email.