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What fireworks are legal in California? A lawyer explains
Arrested for possessing or selling illegal fireworks in California? Criminal defense lawyers explain the laws, penalties and legal defenses
California “Illegal Fireworks” Laws – Health and Safety Code 12500-12728 HS
Are "Fireworks" illegal in California? A former DA explains the law
California fireworks laws divide fireworks into two categories: dangerous fireworks and “safe and sane” fireworks.
Dangerous fireworks are always illegal except for use by a licensed operator. Safe and sane fireworks can be sold by licensed retailers from June 28th to July 6th of each year, and can be used by the public but subject to certain limitations.“Dangerous” fireworks include large items such as rockets and sparklers bigger than ten inches in length or one-quarter inch in diameter. 1“Safe and sane” fireworks include small items such as fountains, spinners, and snap caps. The Office of the California State Fire Marshal puts a list on its website of fireworks that meet this definition.
What fireworks are illegal in California?Dangerous fireworks are always illegal in California except when used by someone with a special display license. These licenses are typically issued only to pyrotechnic operators who put on Fourth of July and other holiday displays.2
Fireworks that are legal in California
Subject to local restrictions, safe and sane fireworks may be sold, purchased, and used by the general public. But only licensed retailers can sell them and they can do so only from June 28 to July 6 each year.3
Is it legal to give fireworks to a minor in California?
It is illegal to sell or give dangerous fireworks to anyone under eighteen (18). It is also illegal to sell or give “safe and sane” fireworks to anyone under sixteen (16).4
Someone who does either of these things can be charged with the California misdemeanor crime of furnishing dangerous fireworks to a minor.
Examples of illegal fireworks use
Examples of uses that violate California’s illegal fireworks laws include:
A man obtains some dangerous fireworks from a friend who holds a display license but has some extra skyrockets he wants to give away.
A store owner has some “safe and sane” fireworks left in her inventory after Fourth of July, so she sells them for use on New Year’s Eve.
A party store employee sells a 14-year-old boy some “safe and sane” fireworks to use on the Fourth of July.
Penalties for illegal fireworks in California
Most violations of California’s fireworks laws are misdemeanors. Penalties can include:
Up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or
A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).
But possession of large quantities of dangerous fireworks can be charged as a California felony. Punishment for a felony fireworks violation can include:
Up to three (3) years in the California state prison, and
Fines as high as fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).5
Legal defenses to California fireworks charges
California legal defenses to fireworks charges include taking the position that:
The defendant was not the person who possessed or had control over the fireworks,
The police discovered and seized the fireworks in violation of California’s search and seizure laws,
The defendant had a permit or license to engage in the activity, and/or
The defendant reasonably believed they were involved in a legal transaction with an adult rather than a minor.
To help you better understand California’s fireworks laws, our California criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:
1. What fireworks are legal in California?
1.1. What is the definition of “dangerous” and “exempt” fireworks?
1.2. What is the definition of “safe and sane” fireworks?
2. What are the major California fireworks laws?
2.1. What is the California crime of HS 12677 possessing illegal (dangerous) fireworks?
2.2 What is the California crime of HS 12676 selling or manufacturing illegal (dangerous) fireworks?
2.3. What is the California crime of furnishing fireworks to a minor?
2.4. What is the California crime of HS 12672 selling “safe and sane” fireworks outside the authorized time period?
2.5. What is the crime of HS 12680 discharging dangerous fireworks where injury to another person is likely?
3. What are the best defenses to assert in court?
4. Can a person go to jail for fireworks violations?
4.1. Possessing a large quantity of dangerous fireworks
4.2. Commercial drivers
5. Related Offenses
California has separate rules for “dangerous fireworks” and “safe and sane” fireworks.”
1. What fireworks are legal in California?
California fireworks laws divide fireworks into two categories:
“dangerous” fireworks, and
“safe and sane” fireworks.
Dangerous fireworks may generally be possessed and used solely by people with a special display license.Safe and sane fireworks may be purchased and used by the general public if permitted by local fire codes and subject to strict restrictions.
Are All Fireworks Illegal in California?
California classifies the items that qualify as "fireworks," specifies who may possess or sell them, and dictates when and where they may be set off.
Are Fireworks Legal in California?
Are Fireworks Legal in California? California law permits the sale and use of "safe and sane" fireworks, but your city or county might prohibit them by local ordinance.
Updated By Rebecca Pirius, Attorney
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This article discusses the legality of fireworks specifically in California. For more information about other explosives and fireworks laws, see our topic page on Explosives and Fireworks.
California State Law
California enacted the State Fireworks Law in 1973. Under this law, the state classifies items that qualify as "fireworks," specifies who may possess or sell them, and dictates when and where they may be set off.
Even though state law permits certain sales and uses of firework, cities and counties within the state may enact their own ordinances on fireworks. These local laws may prohibit or regulate the sale, use, or discharge of fireworks. Be sure to check your local ordinances or city or county website for more information.
(Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 12500 and following (2020).)
What Are Considered Fireworks?
Under California law, "fireworks" include any device that:
contains chemical elements that do not require oxygen to burn (which normal combustible items require), and
produces audible, visual, mechanical, or thermal pyrotechnic effects for entertainment.
Skyrockets, roman candles, rockets, sparklers, party poppers, paper caps, fountains, and smoke bombs are listed in the law as examples of fireworks. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 12511 (2020).)
Private citizens who are not licensed by the state to discharge explosives are strictly prohibited from possessing and discharging (and retailers are prohibited from selling) certain fireworks that state law lists as "dangerous." Dangerous fireworks include:
any that contain arsenic sulfide, arsenates, or arsenites, boron, chlorates, gallates or gallic acid, magnesium, mercury salts, phosphorous, picrates or picric acid, thiocyanates, titanium, or zirconium
skyrockets and rockets (anything that shoots up and explodes)
roman candles and anything that discharges a ball of fire into the air
chasers (anything that darts or travels along ground during discharge)
sparklers more than 10 inches in length or one-fourth of one inch in diameter
fireworks designed and intended by the manufacturer to create the element of surprise upon the user (the exploding cigar is a classic example)
torpedoes of all kinds that explode on impact
fireworks kits, and
other fireworks designated as unsafe by the State Fire Marshal.
(Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 12505, 12677 (2020).)
"Safe and Sane" Fireworks
So which fireworks can a patriotic Californian legally purchase to celebrate Independence Day? Only those labeled "safe and sane."
Unique among the states, the California State Fireworks Law explicitly defines what is "safe and sane"—at least in terms of fireworks. The law defines "safe and sane fireworks" as any that do not come within the definition of "dangerous fireworks," listed above, and that are labeled as safe and sane. You can find a list of safe and sane fireworks on the State Fire Marshal's webpage. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 12529 (2020).)
Other Limitations on Fireworks
In addition to restricting the types of fireworks that may be sold, California imposes other restrictions.
Limited Dates of Sale
While safe and sane fireworks may be legally sold in California, that is true only for a very brief and specific window of time each year. Any retailer selling safe and sane fireworks (who must be licensed by the state to make such sales) may sell the legal fireworks only from noon on June 28 through noon July 6 each year. The license for a retailer to sell safe and sane fireworks expires automatically at noon on July 6, and the license must be renewed each year by June 15. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 12599 (2020).)
Agricultural and Wildlife Uses
In addition to limited safe and sane fireworks for entertainment purposes, farmers may possess and discharge certain other types of fireworks to scare off birds and animals in order to prevent crop damage. These can include small explosives whose noise drives off birds and animals or flash pots whose bright lights have a similar effect. Any farmer wishing to use such fireworks must obtain a permit from the state. (Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 12503, 12678 (2020).)
No Discharge in Certain Locations
California law prohibits the use of dangerous fireworks where there is a likelihood that the discharge of the fireworks will injure another person or persons. And it is illegal to discharge fireworks with the intent of creating chaos, fear, or panic in other people. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 12680 (2020).)
It is also illegal to discharge fireworks within 100 feet of a location where gasoline or any other flammable liquid is stored. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 12679 (2020).)
No Sale to Minors
It is unlawful in California for anyone to sell safe and sane fireworks to a person under the age of 16. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 12689 (2020).)
Public Displays and Special Effects
Cities and private groups hold public fireworks shows on the Fourth (and on other occasions). These events are specially designated by state law and require permits. Such permitted public events may include dangerous fireworks discharged by licensed operators.
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