Is Pepper Spray Legal?

Updated April 17, 2017

Pepper spray, which uses a highly concentrated chemical compound containing oleoresin capsicum from peppers, is generally used by law enforcement officers in riot situations, crowd control and self-defence. Animal control officers use it to ward off bears, attacking dogs and other animals. It's also used by civilians, primarily among women, for self-protection. Legal possession of pepper spray varies in each country and state. Assaulting a person with pepper spray in the U.S. is a crime.

War Ban

Chemical weapons convention article I.5 bans the use of pepper in war, although U.S. military personnel are equipped with it while on duty in Iraq prisons.

Foreign Restrictions

It is illegal for civilian use in Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Malta and the United Kingdom.

Legal with Conditions

The spray is legal for civilians in Germany, Italy, Lativa, South Korean, the Philippines, Israel, Russia, Sweden and Spain with varying degrees of restrictions on chemical concentration or licensing.

Law Varies

In the United States, the states of Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, California and Wisconsin permit the civilian possession of pepper spray, but may be limited to less than 85.1gr or a concentration level of less than 10 per cent.

Bear Repellent

Most states permit the sale of pepper spray as bear or animal repellent.

Illegal Use

Under California state law, a person misusing or assaulting another with pepper spray or tear gas is guilty of a felony and faces three years in prison and a £650 fine.

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About the Author

Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.