Back in November, a majority of the voters in California decided to legalize the use of recreational cannabis in their state, a decision that has thrust the cannabis industry into the national spotlight. The state itself can barely contain its excitement, evident from the recent alteration of the famous Hollywood sign to “HOLLYWeeD”, as well as a number of dispensaries deciding to sell recreational cannabis “illegally”.
Although California might seem poised to take over Colorado as the cannabis epicenter of the United States, tokers should refrain from getting high around the state’s majestic and natural scenery. According to the federal government, they will still enforce cannabis prohibition within California’s national parks, monuments, recreational areas, and other federal lands.
This means a hike or trip through Yosemite, Redwood, Death Valley or other federally owned lands across California might have to be a cannabis-free one. In the past two years, National Park Service rangers in Yosemite issued 465 marijuana citations and made 123 pot-related arrests. The Golden Gate National Recreational Area in San Francisco was second in marijuana-related cases, with 175 incidents of pot-related citations in the past year.
Mike Mitchell, a Fresno-based defense attorney who has represented people busted for cannabis in Yosemite, said:
“I’d anticipate more people thinking now that it is legal in the park. 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. A lot of people don’t know that. They just think they’re going into a park, like any other California park.”
Some states with legalized recreational cannabis legislation, such as Washington, have seen a continuation of relatively harsh cannabis enforcement on their federal lands. While these citations generally don’t result in jail time, people caught with legal cannabis on federally owned land are typically required pay a fine or appear in court.
On the other hand, very few people have been busted in Colorado for using or possessing cannabis within National Parks, making it clear that the level of prohibition is fully dependent on the state in which the park or land is located.
Though California has made it clear that they don’t condone bringing cannabis into national parks and federal lands, most experts still expect a reduction in citations throughout the state going forward. Some park rangers have already hinted that they will only cite for cannabis possession if other drugs are also involved.