Park rangers are seeing an increase in marijuana possession at Yellowstone National Park, the AP reports. Whether that’s because more people are bringing pot into the park or rangers are making a greater effort to crack down on possession is unclear.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne, Wyoming, has prosecuted a significantly higher number of marijuana cases in the 2.2 million-acre park in recent years—from 21 in 2010 to 52 in 2013. As of December 17, the office handled 80 cases in 2014.
The number of prosecuted cases pales in comparison to the number of annual visitors to the park. Alex Freeburg, a criminal defense lawyer based in Jackson, Wyoming, cites ignorance about the law as well as pot legalization in some states as part of the reason more people are getting busted.
“Most people, most of the time, if a ranger says, ‘Do you have any marijuana in your car?’ they’ll say yes,” Freeburg said. “In which case, there’s not a lot a criminal defense attorney can do for them.”
A case study from the AP report: Gary Godina, an artist from Waipahu, Hawaii, was visiting Yellowstone in October 2013 with three grams of marijuana in his car, which he had purchased in Colorado. Godina administers the drug for glaucoma. Though medical marijuana is legal in Colorado and Hawaii, it remains a crime in the park, which is federal land. As a result, Godina spent the night in a holding cell in Montana. He later pleaded guilty and paid a fine. A typical fine for misdemeanor possession of marijuana (three ounces or less) is $1,000.