The United States National Park System is unlike any other in the world. In total, the system includes 417 areas touching every state in the union as well as territories like Puerto Rico and Guam. The country’s national parks cover more than 84 million acres, including the land under the White House in Washington, D.C. In 2016, an astounding 330,971,698 people visited national parks. That’s 5 million more people than the entire US population. Not only are the national parks incredibly popular, they reside everywhere recreational weed is legal. If you’re planning on visiting one of the country’s national parks this year—and you totally should—then you might be asking yourself, are you allowed to smoke weed in a national park? Turns out the answer is shockingly simple.
A Short History Of Cannabis And National Parks
Yellowstone National Park in the American West holds the honor of being the first national park in the United States. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the act that created Yellowstone.
It would take another 34 years before the country established the National Park Service. President Woodrow Wilson signed the act inaugurating the NPS on August 25, 1916.
Both of these landmark events, however, predate the federal prohibition of marijuana. The United State’s national ban on cannabis only began in 1937, through the Marihuana [sic] Tax Act of 1937.
Remember that in that time hemp agriculture was a major part of US industry. The country even recognized some medical applications of the plant. But the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 basically made possessing or transferring marijuana illegal throughout the land.
So cannabis wasn’t always illegal in national parks. But the story isn’t the same today, for a few simple reasons.
Are You Allowed To Smoke Weed In A National Park?
National parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite don’t conform to the political boundaries of US states.
Instead, they spill over state borders. In fact, national parks don’t belong to states at all. Rather, national parks are just that: national land. They fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Many people don’t give this fact much thought. But every time you step foot into a national park, you’ve effectively left the state behind, and are standing on land controlled by the federal government.
As a result, national parks are subject to federal laws. This means state laws don’t apply there. So even though, for example, recreational cannabis use, possession, and sale is legal under California law, Proposition 64 doesn’t apply in Yosemite National Park.
And since the federal government still considers marijuana an illegal Schedule I substance on par with heroin and ecstasy, bringing it with you inside a national park would put you on the wrong side of the law.
The answer is, therefore, an emphatic no. You are not allowed to smoke weed in a national park.
It’s Illegal To Smoke In Public Anyway
However, even if national parks did adhere to state laws over federal laws, there would be another reason you couldn’t smoke lawfully in a park.
It’s the same reason you would break the law for smoking weed in a state park. The reason is this: none of the states that have legalized recreational use allow users to consume cannabis in public. You have to smoke or dab or vape or eat or drink your cannabis in a private residence, or in some places, inside certain cannabis clubs.
The point is, nowhere are you able to smoke weed in the open, in public. That pretty much covers all of the great outdoors. And besides, many national and state parks have strict no-smoking rules anyway.
Are You Allowed To Smoke Weed In A National Park? No, But That Doesn’t Mean You Couldn’t
Are you allowed to smoke weed in a national park? No, but if like thousands of hikers, campers, and outdoorspeople every year, you do decide to partake when visiting the incredible parks across the United States, you’re not likely to pay very dearly for your transgressions.
If you do happen to get busted with weed in a national park, officials are likely to issue a fine and confiscate your cannabis. It’s not the worst that could happen. And park officials don’t seem to be focusing their energies on enforcing marijuana laws.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Public Affairs Officer Sintia Kawasaki-Lee told ABC that there aren’t any recent statistics on the number of people officials have caught with cannabis in the parks.