The funny side of interpreting California’s weirder laws

REAL California laws that are weird and funny

If you’ve ever read articles about California’s weirdest laws, you undoubtedly came across the same list over and over.

There’s the law that makes it illegal for a woman to drive a car in a housecoat.

Then there’s the one about how autonomous vehicles can’t drive over 60mph.

And don’t forget the one about not being able to hunt from a moving car – unless you’re hunting whales.

They’re all undoubtedly hilarious. But are they true?

If you run a keyword search for these laws using California’s legislative search tool, you’re unlikely to find them. Chances are, these laws were rescinded years ago and it’s only the legends of their absurdity that persist. Not to worry, however. Using that same tool, you can still find plenty of California statutes that – when interpreted by reading their precise subparts – are bizarre enough to give you a good laugh. Here are a few of our favorites:

No false whiskers

It’s bad enough to commit a crime in California but God help you if you commit that crime wearing “false whiskers.” No joke.

California Penal Code section 185 makes it “unlawful for any person to wear…false whiskers (whether complete or partial)…for the purpose of…[e]vading or escaping discovery, recognition, or identification in the commission of any public offense.”

Note that this law was enacted in 1872. It is safe to assume, therefore, that the law is not some sort of modern-day hipster penalty enhancement.

sort of modern-day hipster penalty enhancement.
We’re still left wondering whether there is a stiffer penalty for wearing “complete” as opposed to “partial” whiskers.

Don’t clean that train with soiled wearing apparel

If I were a regular locomotive customer in California, I’d be grateful for this law. California Health & Safety Code section 118455 reads, in pertinent part, that “no person shall supply or furnish to his or her employees for wiping rags…any soiled wearing apparel [or] underclothing.”

This law doesn’t apply to just any employer. It does, however, apply to those who supply rags for “…cleaning the surfaces of machinery, machines, tools, locomotives, engines, motor cars, automobiles, cars, carriages, windows, furniture, and surfaces of articles, appliances, and engines in factories, shops, steamships, and steamboats.” (Section 118450.)

One can only hope it also applies to employers who operate restaurants.

Stop taking whales

Since 1975, it has been illegal in California to “take any marine mammals.”

In case you’re wondering what a “marine mammal” is, the statute defines them as “sea otters, whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions.” This sage prohibition is found in California Fish & Game Code section 4500.

For the record, the statute does not instruct where we might get any of these marine animals, nor does it tell us where we might take them. To the movies? To dinner? To a pool party? It also doesn’t tell us how one might take a whale. Is there an Uber for that?

It’s also significant that the statute does not prohibit the taking of California’s river otters. Apparently, you can take them wherever you want. Just be sure to bring appropriate snacks

Here comes the beer wagon

According to the experts, “California is the birthplace of the American craft brewing movement” and currently has over 1,100 craft breweries operating in the state.

Can someone please explain then why more of them are not taking advantage of California Business & Professions Code section 23388?

This genius-level law makes it expressly legal for a “licensed beer manufacturer…[to] sell beer from wagons.”

The history buffs out there may think this is a pre-automobile law that is simply a reflection of historical normalcy. Others of you might wager that this is a modern law that reflects the popularity of food carts.

You’d both be wrong.

This law was enacted in 1953 – at the height of California’s car craze. We’re not sure how the law came to be but it sure would be nice if more breweries were selling their liquid gold from the back of a covered wagon.

Stop acting like a frat bro

Ok, folks. This one is serious.

According to California Penal Code section 538b, it is a misdemeanor to “willfully wear the badge, lapel button, rosette, or any part of the garb, robe, habit, or any other recognized and established insignia or apparel of any secret society, or fraternal…organization…or [to] use the same to obtain aid or assistance within this State.”

Setting aside for a moment the allure of being a fake secret society member, it appears that this law prohibits people from acting like they’re a frat bro when they’re not. Apparently, it’s especially bad to do so if you’re seeking assistance.

So, while we’re not lawyers and we can’t give out legal advice, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that if your car breaks down on the side of a California roadway and you need help, do NOT wear a Delta Sigma Phi t-shirt in an effort to obtain that help…unless, of course, you’re actually a member.

We hope you learned something from studying California’s real weird laws. Whatever you do, please don’t clean a beer wagon with soiled undergarments while wearing false whiskers and a fraternity sweatshirt after you’ve taken a whale.

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