With the Fourth of July right around the corner, here in dispensaries we start to see increased tourist traffic. Many folks tell me how they’re headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park or other National Parks here in Colorado for some camping. Meanwhile they’re purchasing cannabis, which many people don’t realize is NOT legal in National Parks, because they are under federal jurisdiction. Laws in National Parks are enforced by the National Parks Service Law Enforcement Rangers, and the National Parks Service is a subset of the Department of the Interior which is a federal agency. This means that federal laws, not state laws like the ones legalizing marijuana, are enforced in National Parks and cannabis is still federally illegal to possess. All this is to say don’t get caught with cannabis on federal land. 

Leafly has a great article interviewing criminal defense attorney Alex Freeburg, who represents clients accused of marijuana possession in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. It goes without saying that it is illegal to possess marijuana in a National Park. But if you’re bound and determined, Freeburg has some advice:

  • “You can say ‘no’ if they ask to search your car.
  • If you’re camping and an officer wants to search your vehicle, demand a warrant. Say you’re not going anywhere.
  • If you’re going to consume, use vape pens and edibles. It’s all about minimizing smell.
  • Keep cannabis separate from your ID or insurance (e.g., not in the glove box).
  • Keep alcohol in the cooler and out of sight, too.
  • If you’re caught, don’t claim shared responsibility. If there is one joint and two people, and both people say it’s ‘shared,’ you’re both getting the ticket. Let one person deal with it.
  • Don’t agree to probation if you’re not going to stop smoking.”

Freeburg also makes the point that the feds have a lot more resources than state law enforcement agencies. If you receive a ticket in a National Park, even if you then return home to another state, the feds have the resources to have the charges follow you home: “This means that if you acquire a misdemeanor related to a cannabis charge on federal land, the federal government is still required to check in with you in your home state to ensure you’re getting drug tested—even if you reside in a legal state.” Probation is common for first offenses, but if you take probation and get caught with THC in a urine test, you may fail your probation. So don’t think you can come out here to Colorado’s National Parks and enjoy cannabis without consequences, because federal law holds sway in the parks. Those rangers may have goofy uniforms, but they’re cops like any other. Don’t believe for a second that they have your rights or best interests at heart.

We don’t advocate on behalf of breaking the law but if you can’t be dissuaded from consuming cannabis in a National Park, at least be subtle. Keep it on the DL. It’s all about risk mitigation. Less smell is better, so stick with concentrates, vapes, and edibles when possible. Don’t give law enforcement permission to search your vehicle. Don’t try to share legal responsibility–let just one of your group take the hit rather than everyone in your crew getting a ticket. One last thing to keep in mind: most Colorado ski areas and resorts are on federal land, which means cannabis possession and consumption carry the same penalties there as they do in National Parks. That may not seem too relevant this time of year, but plenty of ski areas convert to summer activities during the off-season, the alpine slides at Breckenridge, the Manitou zipline, Keystone’s gondola, etc. for example. So with regards to marijuana consumption, treat the slopes and surrounding activities as if they were in National Park, because breaking the law there will carry the same federal consequences. 

Regardless of how you intend to enjoy our state’s beautiful National Parks, we hope you have a wonderful time out there and that you pack out everything that you pack in. We at Elements want to wish you a happy and healthy Fourth of July!