Ask A Bear: Can You Smell My Marijuana?

Weed may be legal across large swaths of the U.S., but bears know no law except bear.

Photo: Rob Sawyer

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Q: Living in a state where marijuana is legal and being an avid backpacker leaves me in a quandary. Do you like the smell of my medicine, or is it natural enough to not pique your fancy? —RTH, via email

A: Is it a coincidence that two of the first states to legalize recreational weed, Washington and Colorado, have healthy black bear populations? Why did Jerry Garcia and Co. choose an image of me dancing to promote the Dead on t-shirts and bumper stickers everywhere? Alls I’m sayin’ is, I’m sensing a connection, here, man…

All right, back to the real. Though there aren’t very many case studies establishing my attraction to cannabis, it’s probably fair to say that I could be attracted to the smell of your weed. While you are right that it exists in my natural environment, most strains of dried and processed pot possess an even stronger, more intense fragrance than the variety growing in the wild. If I can smell a dollop of toothpaste in your bag or leftover chocolate on a wrapper, I can most certainly detect a whiff of your super-odoriferous lemon kush.

Anecdotally, there is some evidence that marijuana is a bear attractant. In 2019, a security camera caught one of my cousins (let’s just call him Smoky) trying to break into a locked dumpster in the back of a dispensary in Lyons, Colorado. Fortunately for them—and probably for him, he’s more of a lightweight than he looks like—Colorado state law requires marijuana businesses to dispose of their waste in locked containers, and he wasn’t able to muscle his way through.

Don’t take the chance: Stow it with all your food items at night in a canister or bear bag, and try to opt for a wake-and-bake over hotboxing overnight in the tent. (This is also the point where we remind you that toking is still illegal on federal lands, so use your discretion.)


Originally published in 2011; last updated April 2023

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