Ten of the Weirdest Drug Laws in America
Drunken horse riding, tripping surfers and people who inhale bus fumes for pleasure: The makers of America's drug laws really did try to cover all eventualities.
When it comes to drug laws, like many things in life, you’ve got the good, the bad…and the just plain weird. And the US boasts plenty of examples of all three.
Marijuana—safer than alcohol but forbidden long after the US ended alcohol prohibition in 1933—is now legally regulated for adult use in Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, DC. And some of the tax dollars generated from sales are being used to fund drug education programs. What’s not to like?
On the other hand, pot remains illegal in most US states—27 still forbid it even for medical purposes—and many other drugs are also banned, on pain of unbelievably harsh prison sentences. The world’s highest incarceration rate is something the Land of the Free should be thoroughly ashamed of.
Now to the weird. The laws on this list may earn neither your admiration nor your ire. But they should prompt some profound questions along the lines of, WTF? Like, who would ever want to try doing that? So why would anyone even need to make a law prohibiting it?
Good questions all. Unfortunately, the answers tend to be buried in dusty legal tomes on distant library shelves. All we can do is alert you to the fact that these laws actually exist.
1. It is illegal to inhale bus fumes with the intent of inducing euphoria. (New Hampshire)
“Live free or die” may be the New Hampshire state motto, but apparently people there aren’t free to do both of those things at once. Once federal law gets around to nationwide marijuana legalization, a massive popular uprising demanding the right to euphoria via bus-fume inhalation will no doubt get under way. Until then, New Hampshirites will have to content themselves with inhaling bus fumes in order to protect the environment, say, or impress their friends.
2. It is illegal to operate a surfboard while on a hallucinogen. (Washington, DC)
You could argue that there’s nothing actually wrong with this law: In the unlikely event that, while tripping, you are both capable and desirous of surfing, yet strongly averse to breaking another law beyond the one you’ve probably already broken in order to ingest your chosen hallucinogen, it could even protect you from a total body-and-soul wipeout. Still, it’s a little specific, isn’t it?
3. It is illegal to sip your beer more than three consecutive times while standing. (Texas)
Well, there may be some kind of sense in this one. So-called “vertical drinking” has been associated with increased risk of both excessive consumption and violence, and targeted by policy initiatives elsewhere. But isn’t this three-OK, four-illegal rule a little hard to enforce? As well as being an open invitation to participate in some kind of crazy high-stakes stand up/sit down Texan drinking game…
Oddly, the “three sips” rule shows up in other laws in other states, such as Iowa, where it is written that a man cannot take more than three gulps of beer while in bed with his wife.
4. People in possession of illegal substances must pay taxes on them. (North Carolina)
Like us, you may now be trying hard to imagine the kind of devil-may-care but scrupulous individual who is happy to procure and consume substances prohibited by federal law…but always declares them when it comes to tax day. Yet North Carolina really does have an excise tax system through which people in possession of drugs are expected to purchase drug stamps—$3.50 per gram for a marijuana stamp, for example, or $50 per gram for a cocaine one. As an added inducement, it’s illegal for North Carolina Tax Revenue to rat you out to law enforcement if you pay these taxes. But strangely enough, very few people apply for these stamps, and most who do are believed to be stamp collectors—a group not renowned for wild drug consumption.
5. It is illegal to give lighted cigars to dogs, cats and other domesticated animals. (Zion, Illinois)
So this one is a no-brainer. It should be illegal to inflict a habit as dangerous as smoking on your pets—particularly when nicotine is highly poisonous to cats and dogs. Secondhand smoke is bad enough. Plus, you’d kinda hope that people would just know not to do this in the first place. And whose dog or cat is going to eagerly puff on a Cohiba anyway? The fact that Zion, Illinois, felt the need to enact this particular law raises some troubling questions about what was previously going on in the city.
6. No man may purchase alcohol without written permission from his wife. (Newtown, Pennsylvania)
The Amish aren’t the only people in Pennsylvania who operate under certain, uh, restrictions. In Newtown, every man is required to have written consent from his wife in order to purchase alcohol. That’s quite a hangover from the Temperance era. Especially if you don’t have a wife.
7. It is illegal to sell laughing gas with the intent to induce laughter. (Indiana)
This law is no joke to the beleaguered nitrous oxide salespeople of Indiana. Selling laughing gas here with the intent of inducing laughter is a misdemeanor. Sure, it may be legal to sell nitrous oxide for other purposes. But if your customers aren’t committed to keeping a straight face while purchasing your wares—or if you’re just a natural wit—consider yourself warned.
8. Beer at more than 3.2% ABV must be sold at room temperature. (Oklahoma)
Oklahoma’s relationship with booze has always been wary, to say the least. The state’s original constitution of 1907 included total prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Although citizens voted to permit beer in 1933, it wasn’t until 1959 that they did the same for hard liquor, and liquor-by-the-drink bars didn’t get the OK until 1985.
For Oklahoman beer lovers in particular, though, the struggle continues. This law bans anything stronger than 3.2%—including most beers—from being sold at anything below room temperature at liquor stores. The intent is presumably to stop impulse buys and instant drinking. But is the result simply that desperate purchasers endure tepid brews? We also wonder whether an entirely refrigerated room could be a way for liquor stores to get around this problem.
9. It is illegal to force a monkey to smoke a cigarette. (South Bend, Indiana)
A surprising number of weird drug laws around the country imply some sort of best-not-to-ask backstory involving grotesque forms of animal cruelty. This example, forbidding South Bend residents from forcing monkeys to smoke, is believed to have originated in 1924 when a trained monkey in town was actually found guilty in court and fined $25 for smoking a cigarette. We can only guess whether the verdict would have been different if the monkey had blamed peer pressure.
10. Riding a horse under the influence is punishable with a DUI. (Colorado)
Being drunk on horseback (or off horseback, for that matter) can get you charged with public intoxication in most states. But only in Colorado can being intoxicated while riding a horse get you slapped with an actual DUI. Horses cause few casualties compared to automobiles, but they are a large, powerful, fast form of transportation with (unlike a car) a mind of its own. Let a drunk cowboy take the reins, and the next thing you know there’s a bloody horse-and-buggy collision on Main Street.
Not that there are many DUIs being given to horseback riders these days, although this bizarre incident in Boulder made national news.
Douglas Capraro is an editorial intern for Substance.com. His previous feature was an interview with the co-founder of Erowid, the online encyclopedia of psychoactives.
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