What Constitutes Abuse of Corpse in Ohio?
Challenging Ohio's Vague Abuse of Corpse Statute

Is Smoking Cremains Abuse of Corpse?

Keith Richards,   dad,   1983 NYC cliffIn a 2007 interview, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards admitted to mixing his father's cremains with cocaine and snorting them.  He told the interviewer, “I snorted my father. He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow.  My dad wouldn’t have cared, he didn’t give a shit. It went down pretty well, and I’m still alive.” 

After the story was reported, Richards and his publicist claimed the story was taken out of context and was just an illustration to show how close Richards was to his father.  However, in his autobiography Richards comes clean saying, ‘The truth of the matter is that after having Dad’s ashes in a black box for six years…I finally planted a sturdy English oak to spread him around. And as I took the lid off of the box, a fine spray of his ashes blew out on to the table. I couldn’t just brush him off so I wiped my finger over it and snorted the residue. Ashes to ashes, father to son. He is now growing oak trees and would love me for it.”

Similarly, members of Tupac Shakur’s band, Outlawz, smoked his ashes to pay tribute to the lyrics in Tupac’s song “Black Jesus.” 

"Pac came up with that s**t," E.D.I. Mean said. "If you listen to 'Black Jesus,' he says 'Last wishes, n***as smoke my ashes.' So that was a request he had. Now how serious was he about it? [shrugs] We took that s**t serious."

2d5a2aed-e4e2-48d9-ad94-134d1ab68f08The band members, along with Tupac’s “mum and his family” had a memorial at the beach with some of the things Tupac loved including “weed, chicken wings and orange soda.”  At this memorial they honored his wishes and smoked his cremains.

All states have statutes and regulations surrounding the cremation process, particularly focused on how to handle human remains prior to cremation; but very few states have laws regulating what can be done with the ashes after cremation.  Although there is a trend toward more creative uses of ashes, most cremains are buried in traditional burial sites, inurned, kept by loved-ones, or scattered. 

In almost all states, cremains can be dispersed on private property with owners consent.  Spreading ashes is also allowed in most State and National parks with proper permit.  Scattering at sea is a popular option and the Environmental Protection Agency has promulgated regulation for scattering ashes at sea that requires minimum distance out to sea and release of only biodegradable objects.   

Additionally, many states have statutes similar to the Model Penal Code crime of “abuse of a corpse,” which criminalizes treatment of a corpse in a way that the person knows would outrage ordinary family or community sensibilities. In many states, cremains would not be included in that statute because they are not included in the definition of "corpse" or "human remains." In other states, it is not so clear. Even if we were to apply the abuse of corpse statutes to cremains, in both the Richards and Tupac scenarios, those ingesting cremains speak of reverence and closeness that make it unclear if this would violate family sensibilities.  Or perhaps we simply accept more questionable behavior from rockstars.

In an effort to keep this family honored tradition going, Richards recently said he would be happy for his daughters to snort his ashes, saying, “I’ll give them a straw.” 

Shawn Briggs-Seward


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