Think pot is now legal in California? Try telling that to the National Park Service rangers ready to bust people caught with marijuana in Yosemite, Redwood, Death Valley and other federal lands across the state.
The federal government says it’s not backing off on citing people who are caught with marijuana in California’s national parks, monuments, recreational areas and other federal lands regardless of the landslide vote that legalized recreational marijuana in the state.
“Marijuana – recreational, medical or otherwise – remains prohibited on federal public lands and property, regardless of state laws,” said Andrew Munoz, Pacific West spokesman for the National Park Service. “So there is no change: We will continue to enforce marijuana prohibition as before.”
That’s going to come as an unpleasant surprise to people, said Mike Mitchell, a Fresno defense attorney who has represented people busted for pot in Yosemite.
“I’d anticipate more people thinking now that it is legal in the park,” Mitchell said. “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.”
It’s been an issue in states that had legalized marijuana previously, where people are being cited for weed possession on federal land in spite of President Barack Obama’s declaration that it wasn’t a priority to go after people who were following their states’pot laws.
President-elect Donald Trump has shown no inclination to change course, appointing staunch anti-marijuana Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., as attorney general.
The level of federal enforcement appears to depend on the state. Few people seem to get busted anymore for taking joints into Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, a state that legalized pot in 2012, said Brian Vicente, partner at a national Denver-based law firm that specializes in marijuana issues.
“But in New Jersey and in Washington state, they’re still seeing these cases ending up in federal court. Typically it’s misdemeanor possession,” Vicente said. “It’s folks thinking, ‘Oh, marijuana is legal in Washington state,’ or they’re a medical marijuana patient in New Jersey, which doesn’t have fully legal marijuana, and then they’re getting cited for possession.”