15 Places in America Where the Usual Laws Don’t Apply
Which U.S. city requires its residents to own a firearm? Where are sobriety checkpoints illegal? These unusual laws will help you decide where to live—or where not to live, as the case may be.
From trimmed-down taxes to lax alcohol and tobacco laws, the U.S. is a colorful patchwork of rules and regulations that differ across state, county, city, and other dividing lines. Travelers and cross-country movers are sure to find that the laws they follow everyday go right out the window in these American anomalies.
1. Navajo Nation: Where Taxes Take a Break
Residents of Native American reservations, which are sovereign entities in the eyes of the law, pay federal income tax but generally don’t owe state income tax. Reservations can impose their own local taxes on members, but some enjoy relatively lax levies. For example, the Navajo Nation (the largest reservation in the U.S. which owns portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah) imposes a sales tax and junk food tax on Navajo members, but these residents don’t owe personal income, property, or inventory taxes, according to the Navajo Nation Project Development Department.
2. Oregon: Where Sobriety Checkpoints Are Illegal
Sobriety checkpoints are used by law enforcement personnel in 37 states to suss out drunk drivers, but you’ll never be asked to pull over and do the one-leg stand in the Beaver State. According to the State of Oregon, sobriety checkpoints are illegal under the Oregon Constitution, which puts the onus on motorists to drink responsibly.
3. Las Vegas, Nevada: Where Sanctioned Smoking Is Allowed
Twenty-eight states have enacted bans on indoor smoking in private workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Nevada, however, cuts smokers some slack when they’re in Sin City: According to the Southern Nevada Health District, you can legally smoke in stand-alone bars and taverns, tobacco shops, and many casino gaming areas and convention centers situated on the four-mile span of South Las Vegas Boulevard, better known as the Las Vegas Strip.
RELATED: The 50 Strangest Laws in America
4. Kennesaw, Georgia: Where Owning a Firearm Is Required
While some municipalities crack down on guns, one Georgia town has long mandated them. According to its Code of Ordinances, Kennesaw, located northwest of Atlanta, has had a law on the books since 1982 that requires every head of household to have a firearm for safety. However, heads of households with disabilities, moral or religious objections to gun ownership, and felony convictions are exempt from the rule.
5. Camas County, Idaho: Where Immunization Isn’t Always Required
Parents with certain objections can opt out of having their children vaccinated in 18 states that permit nonmedical childhood vaccine exemptions. Of these states, Idaho is home to 8 of the 10 counties with the highest immunization opt-out rates, according to Washington Post. Camas County in Southern Idaho leads the pack; around 27 percent of its kindergartners opted out of vaccines during the 2016-2017 school year. (Given that 44 percent of Camas County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID, according to the New York Times, perhaps there’s a seachange in progress.)
6. Colorado: Where Marijuana Is Legal
Connoisseurs of cannabis don’t need a prescription to light up in Colorado if they’re 21 or older. Although marijuana is legal for medical purposes in 38 states per the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Centennial State is one of 23 states where Mary Jane is legal to use on a recreational basis.
7. Huntington City Beach, California: Where Bonfires Are Welcome
Many municipalities ban beach bonfires in order to protect the public and stave off environmental effects, but several beaches in Huntington Beach—including Huntington City Beach—buck the trend, permitting beachgoers to kindle a fire within designated areas. The sandy paradise stretches for 3.5 miles in Southern California and encourages coast-crazed vacationers to ignite the fun at one of 125 fire rings located between 1st Street and Beach Boulevard.
8. California: Where the Pedestrian Is Always Right
In some states, including Washington and Texas, it’s technically illegal for a pedestrian to enter a crosswalk once the pedestrian traffic sign switches to the countdown signal. But in California, pedestrians can proceed without fear of a jaywalking ticket. The Freedom to Walk Act permits pedestrians to cross the street even after the pedestrian countdown clock has begun as long as they can get to the other side before the time elapses.
9. Kansas City, Missouri: Where Open Containers Are Permitted
The boys in blue won’t always come after you for drinking alcohol in public, at least not in the Power & Light District. According to Missouri-based Miller & Terry Attorneys at Law, you can openly swig spirits in Kansas City’s Power & Light District without flouting the law. The 8-block open-air entertainment hub permits the public consumption of alcohol while walking to and from nearby restaurants and bars.
10. Alaska: Where Drivers Start Young
Not all U.S. teens have to turn 15 years of age or older to hit the road: Alaska is one of only six states where a learner’s permit can be obtained by a 14-year-old. The catch is, they can’t drive without an adult who’s at least 21 until they are 16 years, 6 months of age, when they become eligible for a full driver’s license.
11. Magalia, California: Where Gold Mining Is Allowed
Over 170 years after the California Gold Rush began, recreational miners with a glint of gold in their eye continue to scour California for the precious metal. Although mineral collection is banned or restricted at some gold-rich sites to protect Bureau of Land Management-designated terrain, you can legally mine for gold in a small selection of federally managed lands, such as the Forks of Butte Creek Recreation Area. The hiking-friendly area doesn’t require you to have a permit for low-impact gold panning.
12. Delaware: Where You Can Win the Lottery in Secret
In most states, lottery winners must reveal their identities when they claim a jackpot, primarily for reasons of transparency and public trust. But according to the Multi-State Lottery Association (via Delaware Online), the nouveau riches have the right to remain anonymous in Delaware. It’s one of only a handful of states where lottery winners can elect to stay nameless to maintain their privacy and protect their windfalls from scam artists.
13. Acadia National Park, Maine: Where Dogs are Always Welcome
Unlike most of the country’s national parks, Acadia National Park lets you keep your pup in tow on 100 miles of trails. In addition, many carriage roads are open to leashed pets. Other areas, like Little Long Pond, even allow your furry friend to freely frolic off-leash.
14. New Jersey: Where Horse Race Betting Gets Tricky
Noncommittal horse betters should head to New Jersey to improve their odds of picking the next winner of the Preakness at a local horse race. New Jersey is currently the only state where you can adjust your betting position on a horse race after the horses have left the starting gate.
15. Florida: Where Doors Have to Open Outward
When entering public buildings in the state of Florida, you may notice that all the doors need to be pulled, never pushed. It may seem trivial, but requiring doors to open outward is a pretty practical law passed by the Florida Senate since it protects those inside of a building during fires and other indoor emergencies. This state law was enacted to ensure that people can evacuate buildings quickly and efficiently.