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Cannabis Friendly Campgrounds Utilize Interesting Legal Loophole

cannabis campgrounds
Written by Alexandra Hicks
Since the first legal cannabis market came to be, we’ve had a bit of a chicken or egg conundrum… you can buy weed legally, but might not have anywhere to consume it legally. Most states have laws against public cannabis consumption, so you can only smoke on private property. If you live in said state, that’s no problem. But say you’re visiting Vegas, for example, and you hit up Planet 13, the largest dispensary in the world that’s right off the strip and geared towards drawing in tourists… you do some shopping only to realize that the hotel or Airbnb you’re staying at has a ban against cannabis use. You can’t smoke in public on the strip, and even though they have just been approved, no legal consumption lounges are open in the state yet. What’s a law-abiding stoner to do in that situation?

One way savvy cannabusiness owners have been skirting the regulatory insanity that goes along with opening a consumption lounge, is by launching cannabis-friendly campgrounds. It makes sense if you think about it. It falls under private property laws and weed typically makes for a nice addition to any outdoor adventure, but if cannabis-use is permitted can the land be legally registered as a public campground? That is where the law gets a bit confusing, so let’s take a closer look.

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Smoking in nature

Edibles are fine, and even vaping can be pretty discreet, but what about the old fashioned among us who still enjoy smoking flower and who definitely love to light up a nice joint or bowl when camping, hiking, or otherwise connecting with nature. It’s fun, it’s relaxing, and it feels like a rite of passage; but is it legal?

Now this topic is a bit more complicated and depends entirely on where you are – and no, I’m not referring to whether you’re in a legal state or not. This particular question comes down to if you plan on hiking in a national park, BLM land, or private property. If you’re in a national park, consume cannabis at your own risk because national parks adhere to federal regulations. This means cannabis and certain CBD products are illegal when hiking, backpacking, camping, and off roading – at all times.

This also applies to BLM land. BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management and any region under their jurisdiction is considered federal and state laws do not apply, so yes, cannabis use and possession is technically prohibited on BLM land. In my experience, it’s really hit or miss here. Some BLM officers (in legal states) are very lenient while others are stricter than police. So use at your own risk.

State parks can be a bit different depending on what state you’re in, although the laws really aren’t that much different than in national parks. According to Adeline Yee, an information officer for California State Parks, under state law, “persons 21 and older may possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana. That said, smoking or ingesting cannabis products in public places is still illegal, and cannot be done in state parks, which are public lands.”

So, while you might not get in trouble for having weed products with you in certain state parks, you’re still not legally permitted to consume them until you’re on private property. Hiking on private property is a different story. For example, there is an area where I’m from near Joshua Tree, a private, 600+ acre lot owned by a man who is very pro-pot. There are miles and miles of hiking trails and smoking is allowed on his property, granted that you follow local burn ordinances and don’t litter.

More about cannabis campgrounds

Camping has seen a spike in popularity over the last couple of years, but it’s been especially noticeable following the COVID-19 pandemic. With the traditional forms of recreation like restaurants, bars, and festivals closing their doors for months, people who wanted to get out of the house started migrating to the wilderness. In 2020, national parks across the country hosted more than 237 million visitors, and that number stays rising.

With cannabis use becoming more mainstream, it’s no surprise that cannabis friendly campgrounds are seeing a spike as well. Michigan, Maine, Illinois, all throughout the West coast, and even the four corners area of the southwest offer 420-camping. Typically, a camper can find comparable amenities as they would at standard campgrounds such as picnic tables, fire pits, kayaking, swimming, grilling, and so forth.

One immediately noticeable difference is the décor. Many of the cabins or tents will have pot leaf fabrics, psychedelic paintings, trippy colors, and other stoner-themed decorations. And of course, unlike other camping areas, smoking weed is encouraged while drinking is discouraged and at some locations, alcohol and tobacco are actually prohibited. Campgrounds are BYOB – bring your own bud – but you may find cannabis related gifts and paraphernalia available on site.

“I don’t want the shame with it. This is medication, it’s legal, and I want people to be able to not feel awkward or weird. I want them to be safe,” says Debi Bair, owner of Camp Happy Trees in Michigan. “I love camping … It’s a whole different vibe. It’s calm, it isn’t rushed. You can just go sit by a tree and just relax.”

So, are they legal?

As it stands, cannabis campgrounds are permissible because they fall into a fun legal loophole. Since they are neither dispensary nor social consumption club, standard state regulations governing those two established industries don’t apply.

To open a recreational cannabis consumption lounge, the location would first have to be a licensed dispensary and would operate similar to bars in the sense that any cannabis consumed within the building must also be purchased onsite. They are starting to gain traction, but still aren’t yet legal in most adult-use states and the licensing process to open one is a nightmare.

In most legal markets, cannabis use is only permitted on private property with explicit permission from the property owner, which is undeniably inconvenient and frustrating for tourists. This is where cannabis campgrounds come into play – it’s privately owned land and all the visitors do have permission to consume on the property. Where it becomes murky, is on the issues of charging for a campsite and various legal liabilities.

David Heidrich, spokesman for the Office of Marijuana Policy, advises any businesses to “tread lightly when it comes to becoming cannabis-friendly and to consult legal counsel before making decisions. There are still a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to the law, he said, because it’s simply an untested area.”

What about 420-friendly Airbnbs?

Cannabis friendly vacation rentals fall into yet another legal gray area, one of those things that’s legal still only because no one has banned it. In the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., cannabis is legal but of course, there is no legal place to consume it if you don’t own property in the region. In D.C., homeowners have a lot of autonomy over what they can do with their own personal space, so it’s not uncommon to 420-friendly short term rentals scattered around the city.

“In D.C. you can do what you want in your home so why not offer a safe space for people to come consume, visit monuments have a cannabis-friendly vacation,” says Ayana Everett, local homeowner. Everett operates A High Escape out of an apartment conveniently situated near various city landmarks, where upon check-in customers get to relax with two “free fat pre-rolls”. Her place is currently advertised on a site called Bud and Breakfast, a lodging and hotel site similar to Airbnb but with cannabis-friendly listings instead. This is a growing trend in legal states.

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“You come on vacation, you don’t come to get arrested or get a ticket for cannabis consumption,” Everett said. “You’ve come to enjoy. Having that safe space is really the main reason why I wanted to offer my spot out.” Airbnb has no official policy on cannabis, so it is up to the host whether they allow cannabis or not, however, Bud and Breakfast takes away the stress of guessing and having to ask if it’s allowed.

Just like with the cannabis campgrounds, the legal confusion stems from the fact that money is being exchanged. Of course it’s legal to invite people over to smoke with you in your house, but when you’re accepting donations for their stay and have the property licensed as a short term rental in your city or county, are the rules different? Again, the Airbnb website states that it’s entirely up to the homeowner, but every city can have different local ordinances regarding the issue so it’s hard to say exactly what’s legal and where.

Final Thoughts

Getting stoned and exploring the great outdoors go hand-in-hand, but finding a place where you can do this legally can be a challenge. Cannabis campgrounds exist to bridge the confusing gap between private and public consumption, offering both nature and cannabis enthusiasts a safe, fun, and judgement-free outdoor experience.

Thank you for stopping by CBD TESTERS, your hub for all things cannabis-related. Remember to subscribe to The CBD Flowers Weekly Newsletter or The Delta 8 Weekly Newsletter for more articles like this one and exclusive deals on flowers and other products.

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.