Will We Be Smoking in National Parks Soon?
Are national parks about to legalize weed?!
Published on October 22, 2022

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In the wake of President Joe Biden’s announcement to grant pardons for low-level cannabis-related crimes and pushing to reschedule the drug, even the sports-minded Outside magazine found an angle: does this mean we’ll be able to start toking in national parks soon? 

This a big deal, because even when states have legalized weed in the past, that hasn’t protected consumers’ rights on federal lands within their bounds—and that most definitely includes national parks.

In California, for example, when recreational cannabis was legalized back in 2017, MERRY JANE had to publish this cautionary note, in which Fresno defense attorney Mike Mitchell reminded national park-goers that, “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.”

Currently, you’re looking at a misdemeanor charge if law enforcement snags you smoking in national parklands.

Outside’s breakdown distilled our chances of ripping ganja in the Grand Tetons, bud in the Badlands, to two potential avenues of legalization action. The first way it could happen, muses writer Wes Siler, would be through executive action, and the second through congressional action. Kind of like cannabis regulation, in general.

But there are certain difficulties surrounding getting the green light in national parks. One is that such federal lands are overseen by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management—but those bodies monitor the parks, oftentimes, via accords with local and/or state law enforcement. Hence, federal legalization may not be enough to guarantee your ability to toke on your next bouldering trip.

Another challenge: the smoking of medicinal marijuana is already banned in many public places under various states’ laws, so there’s a precedent that may stand in the way of national park pipes. Even tobacco smoking is not allowed in many park areas—so imagine that, should cannabis finally be de-scheduled at a federal level, you will likely still be restricted on where you can spark up.

Let’s not forget that cannabis is already flowering in many of our national parks, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Authorities have been warning for many years now that federal parklands have become the site for many unlicensed cannabis grows. The importance of this fact is not just an issue of Drug Warm alarmism. Many of these illegal grows, allegedly run by international cartels, have been criticized for littering, using harmful chemicals that negatively impact waterways and wildlife, and sucking up water in areas where it is in short supply.

Long story short, legal cannabis consumption may still be a long time coming in national parks, so take care if you do choose to consume in them (this helpful list from Leafly may help you avoid unpleasant brushes with the law.) And if you’re already on federal lands cultivating weed, please do so in a way that ensures our country’s green spaces will be around for generations to come.

Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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