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Safety of native plants protected under Arizona law
While damaging a cactus in Arizona will not warrant the rumored possibility of 25 years in prison, it is still considered a class four felony.
By Stephanie Lynn Snyder

PHOENIX - Several websites dedicated to describing strange and archaic laws in Arizona list a state law that states there is a possible 25-year prison sentence for cutting down a cactus, however this is simply not true.

While this may have been a law at some point in Arizona's history, there is no current evidence in the Arizona Revised Statutes that connects the destruction of a cactus with a maximum imprisonment of 25 years, according to officials at the chief clerk's office for the Arizona House of Representatives.

Even though the law does not actually exist, various Arizona native plants are protected under state law. The "Native Plants" chapter of the statutes regarding agriculture protects groups of plants including species of cacti, from being destroyed, removed or stolen.

Carol Chancey, a licensing clerk for the native plants department of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, said it is necessary for native plants to be lawfully protected because of the high demand for cacti.

"There's a lot of money in cactuses, what people pay to have planted in their yard, and a lot of people go out to the desert and steal them off state trust land ... let alone private land like your property and my property, and then they sell them," Chancey said. "It's stealing."

Members of the cactus family are found on both the Highly Safeguarded and Salvage Restricted Protected Native Plants lists on the Arizona Department of Agriculture website.

The maximum punishment associated with the destruction of native plants is a class four felony, according to 3-932 of the Arizona Revised Statutes.

"A person commits theft of protected native plants if, without the expressed consent of the landowner, the person knowingly removes or destroys any protected native plants from private or state land," according to 3-932. "Theft of protected native plants with a value of: One thousand five hundred dollars or more is a class 4 felony."

Chancey said cactus theft is more common than people realize.

"The theft is actually pretty high when it comes to the saguaros and the cactuses," she said. "We try to keep some of that theft down by implementing laws."

It is important for there to be laws that protect Arizona's native plants because the state's plant life deserves to be respected, Chancey said.

"If you're out there four-wheel driving and deliberately or by mistake hit a cactus and knock it down and it's witnessed, then you get turned in and you could be fined for it," she said.

Other violations related to the theft, misuse of permits, or improper collection, salvage, harvest, transportation or possession of designated protected native plants result in punishments ranging from a class five felony to a class three misdemeanor, according to 3-932.

The most serious crime dealing with native plants, like cacti, is a class four felony. While a class four felony is a serious offense, it does not carry a prison sentence anywhere close to the 25 years the rumored law enforced.

The term of imprisonment for a class four felony sentences ranges from one year to 3.75 years for first-time felony offenders, according to statute 13-702 of the criminal code.

Though the actual prison time for destroying or removing a native plant is less than four years as opposed to the rumored 25 years, the fact that the crime is considered a class four felony still makes it somewhat unusual.

Some of the other class four felonies listed in the state criminal code include negligent homicide, kidnapping, arson, credit card forgery and prostituting a minor. Though cactus theft seems minor to some, Chancey said the delicacy of the desert warrants the punishment of destroying it.

"Our desert is not as tough as it looks," she said. "We're just here to help protect it."

Class four felonies listed in the Arizona Revised Statutes include:
  • 13-1102: Negligent homicide by causing the death of a person or unborn child
  • 13-1304: Kidnapping without causing physical injury/released in a safe place
  • 13-1506: Third-degree burglary with theft intentions in a structure or vehicle
  • 13-1703: Arson of a structure/property by knowingly causing a fire/explosion
  • 13-2104: Forgery of a credit card with the intent to defraud for money payment
  • 13-2805: Influencing or threatening a juror to manipulate his or her vote
  • 13-3206: Taking a minor from their legal guardian for prostitution purposes
  • 13-3405: Possession or use of marijuana having a weight of at least four pounds
  • 13-3608: Adults having an incestuous marriage or knowingly committing incest