US Federal law pertaining to lasers is a little strange. It is legal to own a laser of any strength. However, it is ILLEGAL to manufacture/market as a pointing device a laser of more than 5mW. So any commercial laser advertised for astronomy or other pointer/presentation use can't exceed 5mW. But that doesn't mean you can't find one for sale and buy it legally.
There are other laws about how and where you can legally point a laser, but nothing to stop someone from owning a high-powered one and using it to point at the stars as long as they are complying with laws about usage.
Someone at the star party you attended may have had a more powerful laser than those marketed as a pointing device. A person at a star party I once attended was using a stronger GLP than my 5mW Hotech. The beam was dramatically brighter and elicited quite a "Wow!" response from the audience, but my pointer was equally effective at pointing at a desired star, which was, after all, the intended purpose.
So, if you want a laser to use for astronomy, any reputable GLP such as those sold by Orion or Hotech, etc. will serve you well. Put good batteries in it and change them when the beam gets weak. If, however, you want a super bright laser to point at terrestrial objects miles away, play tricks on your neighbors, present dramatic light shows, and cause your friends to say "Wow!" you can seek one out, but I wouldn't. Life has a way of bringing troubles all on its own without me going out trying to find new ways to create it.
Edited by Voyageur, 20 October 2021 - 10:03 AM.