Banned in America: Sharing Passwords and Other Weird State Laws
In Nevada, you can’t ride a camel on the highway. In Mississippi, you can be fined $100 for swearing in public. In North Carolina, you can’t plow a field with an elephant. Weird laws like these are on the books across the country, though many of them are no longer enforced.
How did these weird laws come to be? The faculty from the criminal justice program at Olivet Nazarene University wanted to find out, so they worked with marketing agency Digital Third Coast to put together an infographic explaining the origins of the strangest laws in all 50 states.
In their research, they discovered some weird laws were really urban legends, like a rumored Iowa law requiring one-armed piano players to perform for free. Others turned out to be narrow interpretations of a broader statute, such as a Pennsylvania law forbidding fortune tellers from pointing people to the location of buried treasure. The actual law is a bit less specific — it makes it illegal for fortune tellers to offer predictions that might result in financial gain. But other strange and unusual laws are real. Some are simply relics from another era, while others are more recent attempts to address a particular problem, like an Oklahoma law designed to put a stop to bear wrestling in bars.
Here are 10 of the most kooky, amusing, or just plan weird laws we found on Olivet Nazarene’s list.
1. You can’t ride a horse while drunk in Colorado
Riding a horse to the bar won’t allow you to escape a ticket on your way home, at least in Colorado. The Mile-High state forbids people to ride a horse while under the influence. Unlike some weird laws, this one is actually enforced. In 2013, a man was charged with a traffic infraction for riding his horse while drunk.
Colorado isn’t the only state where you shouldn’t saddle up after a few drinks. People in Texas and Alabama have also received DUIs for riding under the influence.
2. A pickle must bounce in Connecticut
In Connecticut, a pickle’s not a pickle unless it bounces. This weird law may have emerged in the 1800s after some unscrupulous entrepreneurs tried to pass off plain old cucumbers as pickles, or it may be related to a 1948 incident when a couple of businessmen were caught selling rotten pickles, according to the Connecticut State Library.
3. Prank pizza delivery is illegal in Louisiana
If you live in Louisiana, don’t try to prank someone by sending a bunch of pizza to their house unless you want to pay a $500 fine or spend six months in prison. According to a 1999 statute, ordering goods or services for someone without them knowing about it (unless it’s a gift) and with the intent to “harass and annoy” is illegal.
4. Selling exploding golf balls is forbidden in Massachusetts
Exploding golf balls are illegal in Massachusetts. Anyone who “manufactures or sells or knowingly uses, or has in possession for the purpose of sale, any golf ball containing any acid, fluid, gas or other substance tending to cause the ball to explode and to inflict bodily injury” may have to pay a fine of up to $500. The origins of the law are obscure, but it may have to do with legislators confusing toy exploding golf balls advertised in comic books in the 1950s for real explosives.
5. Driving with an uncaged bear is a crime in Missouri
In Missouri, it’s supposedly illegal to drive around with an uncaged bear in your car. (Caged bears are apparently acceptable traveling companions.) And that’s not the only bear-related law on the books in the Show-Me State. In 1998, voters passed a law banning bear wrestling throughout the state. Bear wrestling has also been illegal in Oklahoma since 1996, as is horse tripping. These weird laws may sound strange at first, but the goal is noble: to prevent cruelty to animals.
6. Hunting in cemeteries is illegal in Oregon
In Oregon, it’s against the law to hunt in a cemetery (unless you’re hunting for ghosts, and even that may be illegal if you’re on private property). Similar laws exist in Texas and Tennessee. In the latter state, it’s also illegal to “play at any game or amusement” in a cemetery.
7. Nighttime seaweed collecting is banned in New Hampshire
Harvesting seaweed at night has been illegal in New Hampshire for over 40 years. In 2015, a group of middle schoolers named the weird legislation the state’s dumbest law. The law, in force since 1973, makes it a crime for any person to “carry away or collect for the purpose of carrying away any seaweed or rockweed from the seashore below high-water mark, between daylight in the evening and daylight in the morning.”
8. Password sharing is illegal in Tennessee
Using your best friend’s Netflix password rather than getting your own account might be saving you a few bucks a month, but if you live in Tennessee it could land you in trouble with the law. Log in to Netflix, HBO GO, Spotify, or other subscription-based streaming sites using someone else’s password and you might get hit with a $2,500 fine. If you steal more than $500 worth of entertainment, you could be looking at a felony charge, Today reported. The law was the brainchild of big record labels, according to VentureBeat, which have a major presence in Nashville and a vested interest in staving off piracy.
9. Killing Bigfoot is illegal in Washington
If repeated viewings of Finding Bigfoot have inspired you to go out and hunt for a Sasquatch yourself, you may want to leave your gun at home. In Skamania County, Washington, it’s illegal to kill Bigfoot or any other similar creature. The entire county has been an official “Sasquatch Refuge” since 1984.
10. Serving margarine in a restaurant is banned in Wisconsin
Don’t try to pass off margarine as real butter in America’s Dairyland. Until 1967, Wisconsin had a blanket ban on butter substitutes. That law has been repealed, but it’s still against the law to serve faux butter in prisons, schools, hospitals, and restaurants unless someone specifically asks for it. Breaking the law can result in a fine of up to $500 for the first offense or three months in prison.