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.Yes, it’s illegal for a drunk person to enter a bar in Alaska. No, a woman’s hair does not legally belong to her husband in Michigan. The list goes on.
We decided to undertake some legal legwork and identify the strangest statute still on the books in each state. You might find you’re guilty of one or two violations.
A previous version of this article was co-authored by Christina Sterbenz.
ALABAMA: The City of Mobile may know how to throw down on Mardi Gras, but the use of confetti is strictly prohibited. To carry, manufacture, sell, or handle the party supply is considered an “offence against public safety.”
Source: Municode Library
ALASKA: A person cannot get drunk in a bar and remain on the premises. The statute says an intoxicated person may not “knowingly” enter or camp out where alcohol is sold.
In 2012, police in Anchorage, Alaska, started enforcing the law by sending plainclothes officers into to bars to identify excessively drunk people and arrest suspects, according to ABC News.
Source: Alaska State Legislature
ARIZONA: No one can feed garbage to pigs without first obtaining a permit. You can swap out the trough for a waste basket if the swine are raised for your own consumption.
Source: Arizona State Legislature
ARKANSAS: A pinball machine can’t give away more than 25 free games to a player who keeps winning. The statute aims to prohibit machines that encourage gambling.
Source: Arkansas State Legislature
CALIFORNIA: A frog that dies during a frog-jumping contest cannot be eaten.
This health code likely made its way into the books to protect competitors at the Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jumping Jubilee, a decades old traditionin the gold-mining town of Angels Camp. Tourists and jockeys compete to see how far their frogs can leap.
Source: California State Legislature
COLORADO: You have to get a permit to modify the weather. (In some states, it’s legal to perform activities that create changes in the composition or behaviour of the atmosphere.)
Weather modification is not only possible, but it’s actually a lucrative business. Colorado ski resorts pay private companies to burn silver iodide on the slopes. The material carries into the clouds and stimulates precipitation, which creates a fresh sheet of powder for skiiers.
Requiring a permit ensures minimal harm to the land and maximum benefit to the people.
Source: Code of Colorado Regulations
CONNECTICUT: Letting someone copy your work isn’t just a no-no in school. The law prohibits selling a term paper or essay at any education facility supervised by the state.
The law doesn’t specify a punishment, but it’s probably more than detention.
Source: Connecticut General Assembly
DELAWARE: It’s a misdemeanour to sell, barter, or offer the fur of a domestic dog or cat.
Any products made in whole or in part from the hair – say, a coat made of 101 dalmatians – may result in a fine of $US2,500 and a ban on owning a dog or cat for 15 years after conviction.
Source: State of Delaware
FLORIDA: People who own bars, restaurants, and other places where liquor is sold, may be fined up to $US1,000 if they participate in or permit any contest of dwarf-tossing.
Florida outlawed tossing little people in 1989 after the bar activity caught on in southern parts of the state. A Florida state legislator tried to repeal the law in 2011 but was unsuccessful.
Source: Florida State Legislature
GEORGIA: Those engaged in llama-related activities, such as riding, training, or goofing around at a county fair, are responsible for any personal injuries they suffer.
The law protects llama owners from liability in the event of harm or death with few exceptions. Someone may pursue legal action if they were simply watching from an authorised area.
HAWAII: Billboards have no place in paradise. They’re outlawed in the state with few exceptions, including notices from public offices and signs posted where goods are sold.
The “urban beautification” initiative dates back to 1927, when an all-white circle of Hawaii’s power wives created the Outdoor Circle Club and lobbied for the ban on outdoor ads.
Source: Hawaii State Legislature
IDAHO: Cannibalism is strictly prohibited and punishable by up to 14 years in prison, except under “life-threatening conditions as the only apparent means of survival.”
Source: Idaho State Legislature
ILLINOIS: Urban legend says it’s a crime in Illinois to possess more than $US600 worth of salamanders. (That’s 75-plus salamanders, according to fair market value.)
In reality, it’s illegal under Illinois law to possess any variety of aquatic life that was captured or killed in violation of the Fish and Aquatic Life Code or whose value exceeds $US600.
INDIANA: Liquor stores can’t sell refrigerated water or soda. The law specifies that a beer and wine store should be in the exclusive business of selling adult beverages.
Source: Indiana State Legislature
IOWA: Anyone trying to pass off margarine as real butter is guilty of a misdemeanour under food-labelling laws in Iowa. “Renovated butter” must also be labelled as such.
KANSAS: There’s no place like home to get tipsy. It’s illegal to sell liquor by the glass in over 25 counties across Kansas, which repealed prohibition a full 15 years after Congress.
In Kansas, individual counties may by resolution or petition prohibit the sale of alcohol in public places where 30% or less of their gross revenue comes from the sale of food.
KENTUCKY: Every legislator, public officer, and lawyer must take an oath stating that they have not fought a duel with deadly weapons.
When it entered the Kentucky Constitution in 1849, the law was meant to deter men who might aspire to public office from participating in the once rampant Southern tradition. Some evidence suggests that trial by combat might technically be legal on a federal level even today.
Source: Kentucky State Legislature
LOUISIANA: Jambalaya prepared in “the traditional manner” is not subject to state sanitary code. The Creole stir-fry, made with rice, meat, and veggies, may be prepared for public consumption in the open using iron pots and wood fires.
Source: Louisiana State Legislature
MAINE: A game of chance called Beano (like Bingo) is regulated here. The law says that a person may assist players by playing their cards while they take a bathroom break.
This allowance does not apply in high-stakes Beano, which, apparently, is also a thing.
Source: Maine State Legislature
MARYLAND: Oral sex is illegal in Maryland — giving and receiving. A person found in violation is guilty of a misdemeanour, but the state is not known to enforce the law.
Source: Maryland State Legislature
MASSACHUSETTS: Whether you’re at Gillette Stadium or Fenway Park, you’ll never hear just half of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Singing or playing only part of the national anthem or remixing it as dance music is punishable by a fine of not more than $US100.
Source: Massachusetts State Legislature
MICHIGAN: A statute on the books since 1931 makes adultery a felony — punishable by a maximum sentence of four years in prison and possibly a $US5,000 fine.
In 2012, a Portage police sergeant was fired for on-the-job misconduct after allegedly cheating on his wife and furthering a relationship with a local waitress using a city-issued mobile phone. The man was neither fined nor imprisoned, suggesting Michigan doesn’t take the law too seriously.
MINNESOTA: Any contest in which participants try to capture a greased or oiled pig is illegal. The same laws also prohibits turkey scrambles.
Source: Minnesota State Legislature
MISSISSIPPI: Profanity in public could land a person in jail for up to 30 days. It’s illegal for anyone to use vulgar or obscene language in the presence of two or more people.
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.
MISSOURI: If a bull or ram over the age of one year runs rampant for more than three days, any person may castrate the animal without assuming liability for damage.
Three town residents must attest in writing that the animal is loose, and its owner must fail to reclaim or confine the beast after notice is given.
Source: Missouri State Legislature
MONTANA: Driving animals onto a railroad track with intent to injure the train can result in a fine up to $US50,000, a stay at the state prison not exceeding five years, and other damages.
Source: Montana State Legislature
NEBRASKA: No person who is afflicted with a sexually transmitted disease can marry.
Source: Nebraska State Legislature
NEVADA: Using an X-ray machine to determine a person’s shoe size could get you in trouble.
A device called a shoe-fitting fluoroscope, also known as a pedoscope or foot-o-scope, could expose the patient to radiation. Someone found using the device is guilty of a misdemeanour.
Source: Nevada State Legislature
NEW HAMPSHIRE: It’s illegal to carry away or collect seaweed at night. Marine plants and algae are routinely used to make fertiliser and animal feed, which gives it value.
Source: New Hampshire State Legislature
NEW JERSEY: A person wearing a bullet-proof vest while carrying out a grave criminal act can be charged separately for suiting up. The practical effect is more jail and fines.
Source: New Jersey State Legislature and BulletSafe
NEW MEXICO: For many years, “idiots” could not vote in most elections. The word was historically used to describe someone mentally disabled or with an IQ below 30.
In 2016, the state Supreme Court scrapped the archaic law from the books.
Source: Sante Fe New Mexican
NEW YORK: The Empire State bans “being masked or in any manner” disguised in public. The law has withstood legal challenges since 1845. It includes exceptions for parties.
Source: New York Times
NORTH CAROLINA: A bingo game being conducted or sponsored by a commercial organisation may not last more than five hours. (Non-profit groups can go wild.)
Source: North Carolina State Legislature
NORTH DAKOTA: All members of North Dakota’s Dry Pea and Lentil Council must be citizens. The organisation was created in 1997 to promote certain agricultural industries.
A national version of the Dry Pea and Lentil Council also exists. But North Dakota obviously decided it needed a more state-focused group for celebrating chickpeas, lentils, and lupins.
OHIO: Every operator of an underground coal mine must provide “adequate supply” of toilet paper with each toilet. This law clearly makes sense, but the fact that it exists at all raises some questions about basic human decency. And Ohio.
Source: Ohio State Legislature
OKLAHOMA: McCarthyism is alive and well. A state statute says it is “fact that there exists an International Communist conspiracy” committed to overthrow the US government.
“Such a conspiracy constitutes a clear and present danger to the government of the United States and of this state,” the statute continues.
OREGON: Leaving a container of urine or faecal matter on the side of the road is a Class A misdemeanour. And you can’t throw it from the vehicle either.
Source: Oregon State Legislature
PENNSYLVANIA: Human trafficking in general violates too many international laws to count. Pennsylvania felt the need to specify under law that you can’t barter a baby.
But if you do find yourself swapping goods or services for your precious bundle, it’s only a misdemeanour, which is usually punished less harshly than felonies.
Source: Pennsylvania State Legislature
RHODE ISLAND: Someone who bites off another person’s limb will face no more than 20 years in prison (but no less than one) — and only if they maimed the victim on purpose.
Source: Rhode Island State Legislature
SOUTH CAROLINA: A male over the age of 16 can’t seduce a woman by falsely promising to marry her. But no law exists with the gender roles reversed.
If found guilty, the man will be charged with a misdemeanour, fined at the court’s discretion, and possibly imprisoned for no more than one year – with a number of exceptions.
Source: South Carolina State Legislature
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. But fireworks should not be used within 600 feet of a home, church, or school.
Source: South Dakota State Legislature
TENNESSEE: You can’t hunt, trap, or harm an albino deer intentionally. If you do, the fish and wildlife commission will charge you with a Class A misdemeanour.
TEXAS: People wishing to run for office must acknowledge the “Supreme Being.” If not, they could be subjected to religious tests. In other words: No atheists allowed.
Source: Texas State Legislature
UTAH: No one may hurl a missile at a bus or bus terminal — except “peace officers” and security personnel. Anyone outside those positions is guilty of a third-degree felony.
Source: Utah State Legislature
VERMONT: The legislature created a law that prohibits outlawing solar collectors and clotheslines, listing both items as “energy devices based on renewable resources.”
Source: Vermont State Legislature
VIRGINIA: An odd law suggests Virginia is for prudes, not lovers. “Fornication” (or sex) is completed banned, except for married couples. It’s punishable as a misdemeanour.
Source: Virginia State Legislature
WASHINGTON: Doors to nearly all public buildings must open outwardly. Anyone who violates this will face a misdemeanour charge. The statute does explain why though: to avoid congestion during emergencies, like fires.
Source: Washington State Legislature
WEST VIRGINIA: Don’t attempt to substitute a hunting dog for a ferret in West Virginia.
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 up to 100 days in jail.
Source: West Virginia State Legislature
WISCONSIN: In America’s Dairyland, many different kinds of state-certified cheeses, like Muenster, cheddar, Colby, and Monterey Jack, must be “highly pleasing.”
Source: Wisconsin State Legislature
WYOMING: It’s illegal to “cut, sever, detach, or mutilate” more than one-half of a sheep’s ear. Violations are felony offenses, punishable by up to five years in prison.
But less than one-half? Totally fine.
Wyoming State Legislature