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Federal Marijuana Laws Still Prevail Over California's National Parks

Published Wednesday, May 31, 2017

There are plenty of fun things to do at California's national parks.

At Yosemite National Park, for instance, you can take your pet for a walk, pitch camping equipment, go biking, water rafting or snow skiing.

But one thing you can't do at California’s national parks -- legally, that is -- is possess or consume cannabis products.

Here's the gist.

The federal government has jurisdiction over national parks no matter which state the parks are located. That means that, though cannabis consumption is legal in California, the feds still prohibit marijuana use at the parks, which are on federal land.

“I’d anticipate more people thinking now that it is legal in the park,” Mike Mitchell, a Fresno, California defense attorney said in a Miami Herald interview.

Mitchell has represented clients who were caught with marijuana at Yosemite. The park is the state's most visited national park, which covers 1,200 square miles, and it touts the highest rate of marijuana busts among all national parks in the country.

Mitchell said the main issue is a lack of education.

“A lot of people don’t recognize that you are going into a completely different jurisdiction; it’s just like going into a different state,” he said.

What's more, when California voters approved Proposition 64 last year to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state, they also voted for many existing restrictions.

For instance, California's marijuana smokers are still prohibited from smoking in public places, unless specifically allowed by a local ordinance.

Smoking Cannabis in National Parks

National parks are considered public places and therefore, as in any public place, caught smokers can face fines up to $100. Adults caught smoking marijuana where tobacco smoking is prohibited can face fines up to $250.

“So there is no change: We will continue to enforce marijuana prohibition as before," said Andrew Munoz, Pacific West spokesman for the National Park Service in a Miami Herald interview.

Still, law enforcement seems to vary from park to park. At Joshua Tree National Park, for instance, park rangers seem to be a bit more lenient.

"We only cite for [marijuana] if there are other drugs involved,” said Acting Chief Ranger Dan Messaros to the Miami Herald. 

“We do confiscate without citing, including people with medical cards,” Messaros wrote in an email. “Most of these are fake that we run into.”

There you have it. Since you're on Federal land, Federal law applies. 




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