It is illegal in Arizona, under two different statutes, to wash your child’s hair without a license. As Tucson cosmetology student Juan Carlos Montesdeoca recently discovered, it is also illegal to give free haircuts to homeless people without a license.
Montesdeoca’s troubles began with a Saturday morning event in late January to offer “free haircuts, nails, medical care and love” to Tucson’s homeless population. He was inspired by cutting hair for a woman battling cancer and considered it a way to honor his mother, who died after losing her hair. But the hair angle was not his only personal connection; Montesdeoca had been homeless before and wanted to give back to an often overlooked community with harshly familiar struggles.
For all this, the aspiring cosmetologist was instead saddled with a complaint submitted to the State Board of Cosmetology. His alleged crime? Cutting hair without a license.
The Grand Canyon State defines “barbering” and “cosmetology” broadly. They include cutting, clipping or trimming hair—even a beard—shoulder massages and exercising or beautifying anybody’s face or head. They also include skin care or applying oils, creams, clays or lotions “for cosmetic purposes”——to the face, neck or shoulders. Arizona considers unlicensed cosmetology a class 1 misdemeanor—just below a felony—which could warrant up to half a year behind bars. It does not even matter if the haircuts or other “cosmetology” services are free—thus, not even parents caring for their kids are safe.
For a student like Montesdeoca, potential penalties include denial of a future license to cut hair legally in the state.
In 2012, the Institute for Justice (IJ) ranked Arizona as the “most extensively and onerously licensed state” in its “License to Work” report. The regulatory situation has improved since then, as in the recent case of an IJ lawsuit that prompted the State Veterinary Medical Examining Board to stop enforcing Arizona’s veterinary laws against animal massage practitioners. But there is clearly more to be done to stop Arizona officials’ attacks on the livelihoods of responsible residents. Hardworking Arizonans, like Montesdeoca and responsible parents who was their children’s hair, are not criminals, and it is time the law reflected it.
Arizona lawmakers should cut red tape to let Arizonans cut hair without a license.