Marijuana and gun laws don’t exactly go hand in hand. Actually, they’re more like oil and water. Why? It all goes back to the late-1960s.
If you are a law-abiding citizen living in anywhere in the United States, you can legally own a gun. There are also 29 states (along with the District of Columbia) where you can legally obtain medical marijuana. There are no states, however, where you can legally possess both at the same time.
Legal gun ownership doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, and as the number of states legalizing marijuana — as well public support for cannabis legalization — continues to expand, so will the discussion about how to marry these two freedoms. For now, however, the rules are pretty clear.
Current legislation forbidding anyone from possessing a gun if they use or are addicted to cannabis dates back to the Gun Control Act of 1968. That law bans anyone who is “an unlawful user of or addicted to marihuana” from possessing a firearm, and since marijuana in all forms is still technically illegal at the federal level, those unlawful users include anyone who is legally permitted to use the drug by their state.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” — just like heroin, LSD, and other hallucinogens (*eye-roll*).
"There are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana used for medicinal or recreational purposes," says Special Agent Joshua E. Jackson, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington, D.C.
Back to 2011, a legally registered medical marijuana patient in Nevada named S. Rowan Wilson tested the federal regulations by attempting buy a gun for self-defense. As Green Rush Daily notes, Wilson said she didn’t consume medical cannabis regularly, but was nonetheless an active supporter of medical cannabis in the state and accepted a medical cannabis card as a political statement. When the gun store owner refused to sell her a firearm, she filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
Wilson’s case was heard by 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, where Chief District Judge Gloria Navarro ruled that the federal government’s ban of gun sales to lawful, state-legal medical marijuana patients did not, in fact, violate the Second Amendment.
"It is beyond dispute that illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely as a consequence of that use to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior,” justices wrote in the ruling.
But things didn’t stop there for the marijuana and gun laws debate.
According to Leafly.com, the Ninth Circuit Court ruling prompted the ATF to add a warning to the Firearms Transaction Record, or Form 4473, amending the question regarding whether or not the prospective firearm owner uses or is addicted to marijuana:
“Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance? Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”
While the surge in legal marijuana users — and states — may eventually prompt lawmakers to take another, more lenient look at weapons legislation, some states have already begun acting on the for-now irreconcilable relationship marijuana and gun laws by taking steps to take guns out of the hands of pot users.
Police in Hawaii have sent letters to medical marijuana users, telling them that they will need to surrender their weapons within 30 days of receipt, while authorities in Ohio and Pennsylvania have issued public statements making sure citizens of their respective states know that medical marijuana users would not be allowed to purchase or technically possess of a firearm under federal law.
As numerous attorneys and lawmakers — as well as gun and cannabis rights activists — point out, there is a definite conflict between state and federal law on this issue. Where is the line between protecting lawful cannabis users’ right to own guns for, say, hunting or self-defense, and the public’s right to be protected from individuals who handle firearms while under the influence of marijuana or other potentially harmful substances?
Society and the courts will ultimately decide the relationship between marijuana and gun laws.
Stay tuned for updates.