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National Park Drug Laws

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 13, 2015 10:10 AM

We go to national parks to commune with nature, but if your communion includes more than sacramental wafers and wine, you may want to leave it at home.

Park rangers are cracking down on drugs in national parks, especially Yosemite National Park, whose visitors are four times as likely to be arrested for drug possession.

Party in the Park

The majority of the drug busts are for marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and ecstasy, and occur in Yosemite's crowded Valley area, where the majority of the park's three million visitors camp within seven square miles. Many believe that this high concentration of visitors into a relatively small area accounts for Yosemite's abnormally high drug arrest rate.

Arrests for drug possession far outstrip those for other crimes in Yosemite, whereas disorderly conduct, liquor violations are the most common in Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, respectively. In fact, drug arrests in Yosemite accounted for almost a quarter of all arrests made in national parks nationwide from 2010 to 2012.

Party Like a Park Star

While some states may be relaxing their drug possession laws, and a few have legalized recreational marijuana possession and use, possession of any controlled substance remains illegal under federal law.

As national parks, Yosemite and others fall under federal jurisdiction, and federal law trumps state law if there is a conflict. And, under federal law, a National Park System officer doesn't even need a warrant to arrest someone if the officer "has reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing" a federal crime.

The best policy when visiting a national park is probably to leave the drugs at home (provided of, course, that you're allowed to have them there). It's far better (and safer) to get high on El Capitan than El Cannabis.

If you find yourself facing criminal charges because a park ranger found some drugs in your camping bag, you'll probably want to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney near you.

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