We’ve all heard urban legends and rumours about absurd laws in America, but you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Sites like dumblaws.com — which rarely link to states’ current statutes or may misinterpret them — only perpetuate the myths.
We decided to find the weirdest laws that are actually still on the books, and came across everything from fines for dwarf-tossing to bans on sex. Here are some of the highlights:
In Alaska, it’s illegal to get drunk in a bar and remain on the premises. Though this kind of defeats the purpose of a bar, doesn’t it? The statute states that an intoxicated person may not “knowingly” enter or camp out where alcohol is sold — so maybe if you’re inebriated enough, you can get away with it.
If a frog dies during a frog-jumping contest in California, it can’t be eaten. This health code likely made its way into the books to protect competitors at the Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jumping Jubilee, an 80-year-old tradition in the gold mining town of Angels Camp. Each year, tourists and experienced jockeys compete to see how far their bullfrogs can leap.
In Florida, there’s no dwarf-tossing allowed. Owners of commercial establishments where alcohol is sold may be fined up to $US1,000 if they participate in or permit any contest of dwarf-tossing, since it was outlawed in 1989. A Florida state legislator actually tried to repeal the law in 2011, but wasn’t successful.
When it outlawed the act in 1990, Idaho became the only state to declare cannibalism illegal. The act is strictly prohibited and punishable by up to 14 years in prison, but it’s ok to “wilfully ingest the flesh or blood of a human being” in life-or-death situations — if it’s the only apparent means or survival.
In Indiana, liquor stores can’t sell cooled water or soda. However, they can sell unchilled soda, so expect warm Coke if you purchase it alongside your rum. The code specifically lists what types of beverages (and at what temperatures) permit-holding businesses can have in stock.
It’s a misdemeanour to try to pass off margarine (or oleo or oleomargarine) as real butter in Iowa. The great butter vs. margarine battle rages on though, so we understand Iowa’s desire for transparency.
In Maryland, it’s illegal to sell non-latex condoms in a vending machine. Any person caught doing so is guilty of a misdemeanour and can be fined up to $US1,000.
Don’t cheat on your spouse in Michigan — it’s illegal there. A statute on the books since 1931 makes adultery a felony — punishable by a maximum of four years in prison and a $US5,000 fine. And if a married man sleeps with a single woman (or vice versa), even the unmarried party is considered guilty and liable for punishment.
In Minnesota, any game in which participants attempt to capture a greased or oiled pig is illegal. The same law also prohibits turkey scrambles. Let’s assume legislators were more concerned with animal cruelty than human stupidity.
In Mississippi, swearing in front of two or more people in public could land you in jail for up to 30 days. Or you could pay a hefty fine to the state swear jar, no more than $US100. While this law appears to be a direct assault on the First Amendment, it’s thought to have been conceived in order to protect the public.
As of 1973, it’s illegal to carry away or collect seaweed at night in New Hampshire. Breaking most of the general provisions about fish and game will land you a “violation” — with an unspecified punishment. Though this law might sound silly to the average person, seaweed is actually a widely used commodity. It’s routinely used in fertiliser and animal feed, and is also considered a good source of alginate, which gives liquid solutions a thicker texture (think Jell-O).
Playing bingo for too long is illegal in North Carolina. That’s right: For certain organisations, bingo games can only last up to five hours. The state’s administrative code even contains a few more explicit restrictions on the game: only one in a 48-hour period and no more than a $US500 prize.
In South Dakota, agricultural producers may set off fireworks and other explosives to safeguard their sunflower crops. Crows and other birds can wreak havoc on a blossoming field, and pyrotechnics are farmers’ first defence — so long as they’re not used within 600 feet of an occupied home, church, or schoolhouse.
Atheists aren’t allowed to run for office in Texas. Though the Lone Star State prohibits “religious tests” as a qualification for candidates, anyone wishing to run for office must acknowledge the existence of a “Supreme Being.”
Except for married couples, sex is completely banned in Virginia. No matter your age or your partner’s, breaking this law results in a Class 4 misdemeanour.
In West Virginia, it’s illegal to use a ferret for hunting. Anyone who hunts, catches, takes, kills, injures, or pursues a wild animal or bird with a ferret will face a fine of no less than $US100 (but no more than $US500) and no less than 10 (but no more than 100) days in jail.
Wisconsin has high standards for its cheese. Not to stereotype, but in Wisconsin (also known as America’s Dairyland), many different kinds of state-certified cheeses (Muenster, cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack) must be “highly pleasing.”
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