The Weirdest Laws in All 50 States
The internet was made for lists of the weirdest laws you never knew existed in your state -- they’re quirky, they’re fun, and after auditing them, I can tell you they’re about 95% bogus. Most of the popular ones you see on these sorts of lists, like how you can’t shove a moose out of an airplane in Alaska or take a lion to the movies in Maryland, are either completely made-up, long-since repealed, or just cherry-picked from their actual legal context so as to come off as much more catchy than they actually are.
Don’t feel bad if you got suckered in by any of these -- approximately 1 billion law firms keep sharing them, too. Worse yet, loads of the ones that aren’t apocryphal are still bummers, in that they have their roots in policies that are not light and fun, but racist/sexist/homophobic/otherwise discriminatory.
Fortunately, what follows here is good news: a roundup of weird, bizarre, quirky, or otherwise nonsensical laws that a) really do exist according to state legislatures, local newspapers, or legal databases like Justia; and b) are not awful. (One caveat: While I’ve done my best to leave out laws that I’ve found apply in more than one state, there’s bound to be a few. Know of any good ones we missed? Leave ‘em in the comments.)
Let us begin.
You may not impersonate a member of the clergy. Such a misdemeanor could result in actual jail time, and/or a fine of up to $500.
The internet is very excited about all Alaska’s weird moose laws, like the supposed illegality of giving a moose a beer or the aforementioned law against shoving one out of an airplane. Unfortunately, those are all old and/or fake, but here’s one that’s still moose-adjacent: If you kill a moose (or any big game animal) no matter the circumstances, you gotta at least try to salvage the meat so people can eat it. Hope you know how to do that.
Want to feed garbage to a pig? You’ll need a permit. You can, thankfully, feed your own household garbage to your own pigs without the permit.
Because one of the popular weird laws for a lot of states goes something along the lines of “no honking at sandwich shops at these oddly specific hours on a Sunday,” it is with great joy that I bring you Section 18-55 of Little Rock’s Code of Ordinances -- current as of March 2017 -- which states that “No person shall sound the horn on a vehicle at any place where cold drinks or sandwiches are served after 9pm.” (Also, no, it’s not illegal to mispronounce the state’s name. Just discouraged.)
Look, you can have as many frogs for as many frog-jumping contests as you want. But if any of them die, you may not eat them. Go to Alaska if you want to do that shit.
In Boulder, you are not permitted to roll (or “throw, or otherwise move”) any boulders on any public property. Let the Boulder boulders be.
No silly string in Southington unless it’s in the privacy of your home. It was apparently quite some journey to get this on the books back in the day, so respect the law even if you probably wouldn’t be, like, prosecuted for violating it.
In Fenwick Island (a town, not technically an island) you can’t tailgate or otherwise picnic around your car between midnight and 6am.
Did you ever think those “Beware of Dog”-type signs had any actual legal function aside from keeping you from scavenging in scrapyards? No, you did not. Turns out, dog owners here are liable if the dog bites you -- unless they have a sign displayed on the premises that says “Bad Dog.” Then you’re on your own.
Iowa does not tolerate Fake Butter.
Staying on a boat during your time in Georgia? Not for more than 30 days you’re not. You can file for an extension, but it might be simpler to just make other arrangements, such as moving on to another state.
A popular weird law for Hawaii was that you could only have one drink in front of you at a time. That one’s actually been repealed, but the law prohibiting you from drinking on the beach still stands. And no, you’re not the first person to think you can get around this by scooting forward a few feet so as to be technically drinking in the ocean.
OK, contrary to popular belief, it is not illegal to throw snowballs in Rexburg. It is, however, illegal to throw snowballs in such a manner as to really fuck up the person or property at which you are aiming the snowballs.
Plan your naps carefully in Illinois, lest you fall asleep in a cheese shop and break the law whilst not even being awake to remember it.
Ways you are not permitted to catch fish in Indiana: With “a firearm.” With “the hands alone.” I do not make these rules, I just report them.
Imitation butter cannot be called butter or described with the words “butter,” “creamery,” or “dairy,” nor can you market it with images of dairy cows. It must be marketed as “oleomargarine.” Iowa does not tolerate Fake Butter.
No swimming or wading in public fountains in Wichita. Sorry, kids. Make those summer memories elsewhere -- someplace with fewer municipal restrictions.
It's unlawful to sell those dyed baby chicks you see around Easter, unless of course you… sell them in groups of six or more.
You can’t order goods or services for someone who doesn’t know to expect said goods or services -- like ordering someone a surprise pizza. This one had me a bit shook because I’ve done this before. This is a nice thing to do! Also, don’t steal any crayfish while you’re in Louisiana.
In a number of Maine counties, you can’t skateboard on the sidewalks. In Biddeford, at least, the fine is only $10, so if skateboarding on sidewalks is what’s in your heart you’ll probably be able to afford it.
While there’s no specific law against taking a lion to the movies in Maryland (this does not, presumably, mean that one is allowed to take lions to movies), there is one against using any profanity while driving. Or, more specifically, while “near any street, sidewalk or highway within the hearing of persons passing by, upon or along such street, sidewalk, or highway.” So no profanity while driving.
You can’t give alcohol to a hospital patient if they’ve been hospitalized for something alcohol-related -- unless it’s been prescribed by a doctor. Same thing goes for drugs.
Hope you’re not traveling through the state by train, because you’ll need to do that sober. If you want to be tipsy on a train, you’ll just have to wait till you’re back in some other state that cares less about these things.
No contests where the point is to chase and catch a pig -- "greased, oiled, or otherwise." You also may not throw turkeys or chickens in the air with the intent to catch them. No word on whether you’re allowed to chase or throw any of the above without the intent to catch them.
If you disturb a church service in Mississippi, you can get yourself citizen’s-arrested. It’s not just a thing from Master of None. Don’t let it happen to you.
In Jefferson County you can hold a garage sale only between the hours of 7am and 8pm. And it can’t last more than three days. And you can’t hold more than two per year. If you do happen to patronize a legally compliant garage sale and score a bow and some arrows, though, there’s a bit more latitude when it comes to the laws about target practice within city limits.
If you start performing onstage, you are committing to finishing that performance on stage -- you can’t abandon it mid-song. I came upon many strange and wondrous things while researching for this article, and the absolute strangest and most wondrous-est was the account of the 1987 court case that followed burlesque dancer Jimmy Lee Laedeke’s violation of this ordinance. Each minute you spend reading it counts as a minute of self-care.
I suppose it’s best for your health in the long run, but in Nebraska you cannot purchase a cocktail that mixes liquor and beer. Drink them separately like the rest of the nerds.
If you’ve ever been skiing or snowboarding, you know that it’s a weird tradition in lots of places to throw Mardi Gras-style beads or similar festive litter from the chairlift into nearby trees. Sit that out in Nevada; it’s illegal to throw anything from a chairlift here.
Multiple counties in New Hampshire have outlawed picnics in cemeteries. Seems you’re allowed to have take that midnight car picnic you couldn’t take in Delaware, though, so everything balances out in the end.
There's no specific law against taking a lion to the movies in Maryland.
New Jersey is now the last state where you’re not allowed to pump your own gas. Chris Christie once tried to blame this on women, but it’s divisive enough that you can probably find the scapegoat of your choice. Anyway, stay in your car when you’re filling up in Jersey. You don’t have to tip the person who comes out to pump your gas, but a buck or two is always nice.
It is an actual petty misdemeanor to misuse the national or state anthems (“O Fair New Mexico” being the latter here). Not a ton of specifics on what “misuse” means though. Karaoke?
If you want to play more than 10 hours of bingo per week, you’ll need to find yourself a bingo exhibition. Otherwise, bingo-enthusiasts are in violation of the state’s gambling statutes.
Ideally you’re not the sort of person who deals with annoying pigeons by… killing those pigeons, but in case you are, know that you need to get a pigeon-killing permit first.
In no way are we encouraging you to do crimes, but apparently those who commit some of the relatively less-serious crimes in Ohio can’t be arrested on a Sunday or on the July 4. Unless you’re… on a river… ?
You. Yes, you. Paying attention? Good. No making glue out of dead skunks.
You are not permitted to throw your poop out of a moving car in Oregon. Don’t even think about leaving a container of pee on the side of the highway, either, unless you also want to hand the state $250.
One of the popular-but-fake-sounding weird laws for Pennsylvania is that you can’t catch a fish with your mouth. Because I care, I went deep into the Gettysburg Times archives and found, from 2010, a reference to what is apparently still a very real law forbidding you from catching a fish in your mouth. Sometimes the internet is good.
Texas will make you regret peeing on the Alamo.
You know when you’re out driving a horse and just want to test how fast it can go? Do not brag about this capability in front of Rhode Islanders, who must spend the rest of their lives wondering. Horse-speed-testing is not permitted there.
Are you 18 or older? Congratulations: You may legally play pinball in South Carolina. No pinball for South Carolina’s minors, who must find other outlets for their angst.
In Huron, South Dakota, it is unlawful to cause static. At least, it’s illegal between 7am and 11pm. After 11pm, yeah, go nuts, I guess.
This is devastating, but it’s important that we spread the word before anyone gets in trouble. In Tennessee, you may not use someone else’s Netflix account.
Do not pee on the Alamo. You are specifically not allowed to pee on the Alamo. Texas will make you regret peeing on the Alamo.
In Utah, you can’t buy alcohol during an emergency. This is because no one can sell alcohol during an emergency.
Put up clotheslines wherever you want, I guess. In Vermont, they’re considered devices that run on solar power, and you can’t obstruct the installation of renewable energy tech.
The people of Virginia really hate raccoons. While in the state, you’re prohibited from killing any “nuisance species” before 1pm or after sunset on Sundays -- except raccoons, which you may continue to kill up until 2am on Sunday mornings.
West Virginia has an honest-to-goodness swear jar.
This ordinance is from 1984, and I will level with you, I didn’t look too hard to see if it was still current because you should all respect it regardless. If you are the one to confirm the existence of Sasquatch and then decide to kill Sasquatch, you are guilty of a misdemeanor and face a fine, jail, or both. It used to be a felony, which seems fitting. “Sasquatch” here is legally interchangeable with the terms “Yeti,” “Bigfoot,” and “Giant Hairy Ape,” but it seems clear that if you kill Sasquatch -- by any name -- it is you who are the true monster.
The state has an honest-to-goodness swear jar. If you profanely curse, swear, or get intoxicated in public (that last one feels like it should have come with a few more details), you can be fined exactly $1.
In Wisconsin, you can face up to six months in jail for… selling home-baked cookies.
Not that you’re the sort of sociopath who’d ever do this, but in Wyoming you can apparently be fined $750 for failing to close a fence behind you.