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Is It Legal to Be High in Public?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

The notable side effect of consuming marijuana is getting high (duh), and many Americans wonder whether it's illegal to simply be high in public.

This is an even more pressing question in states where marijuana possession and use is legal -- either for medicinal or recreational purposes -- but public use is still heavily restricted.

So is it legal to be high in public? Here's what you need to know:

Consuming Weed in Public Is Still Illegal

Even in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is currently on sale in state-licensed shops, it is illegal to smoke marijuana in public. The same is true in Washington and just about every other jurisdiction which has allowed the "legal" use of marijuana.

While there may be some slight variations in local laws with regard to whether vaporizers and e-cigarettes count as "smoking," it's generally illegal to smoke up in public.

And you may be surprised to learn that even marijuana-infused edibles are not supposed to be consumed in public. Colorado even warns residents and tourists that "Possession laws are the same for all retail marijuana types, and public consumption is always illegal, regardless of form."

What If You Get High in Private, but Then Walk Around in Public?

A trickier question arises when a person gets high at home (or in a parked car, cannabis cafe, etc.) and then enters a public place, thus technically being "high in public."

Public intoxication laws cover intoxication or influence by substances including alcohol and THC, but these laws vary wildly in their interpretation and enforcement.

Most public intoxication laws require a suspect to be breaching the peace, harassing others, or endangering lives or safety in addition to being altered in public. Laws that have tried to criminalize simply being intoxicated and "annoying" have often been struck down as being unconstitutionally vague.

For the purposes of these laws, "public" can mean movie theaters, parks, sidewalks, and malls. Being stoned in these places may be perfectly legal, though, as long as you're not bothering anyone or endangering yourself or others.

Colorado and Washington State

Coincidentally, Colorado and Washington are two the few states which have decriminalized being publicly intoxicated, treating the condition more as a societal issue needing treatment than a crime. These states have even prevented cities and municipalities from passing their own local public intoxication ordinances.

In these states, it seems very likely that it would be legal to be high in public, although you could potentially break other laws while being high.

If you feel like you've been arrested simply for being high in public, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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