Last week, voters in eight states approved marijuana-related ballot initiatives. Now, 28 states and Washington D.C. allow medical cannabis use, including eight that have also legalized recreational use. Yet, federal law still considers that anyone who consumes marijuana, even for medicinal purposes, is doing so illegally and, therefore, cannot buy a firearm.
The prohibition arose in the case of a Nevada resident who attempted to purchase a handgun for self-defense in 2011 but was denied when the store owner recognized her as a medical marijuana cardholder. Federal law forbids gun purchases by an “unlawful user” or “an addict of any controlled substance.” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which regulates licensed gun dealers, explains that the law applies to cannabis consumers regardless of whether the state has legalized marijuana for any purpose. Although a growing number of states have passed marijuana laws, the drug remains fully illegal under federal law, which considers it to have no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse.
Recently, the scope of the conflict has only grown as residents of eight more states approved marijuana-related ballot initiatives. The idea of choosing between the Second Amendment and health (in case when a person uses marijuana as medicine) seems offensive to both medical cannabis users and gun owners who often find themselves on the opposite sides of the issue.
The marijuana-gun problem is one of the outcomes of the clash between federal law, which considers marijuana as a Schedule I substance, and state laws, which increasingly allow cannabis use.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has ordered anyone who visits licensed firearms dealers to purchase a gun to fill out an application form, specifically Question 11(e) on the ATF Form 4473, in which they specify whether they use marijuana, no matter if it is for medicinal or recreational purposes. Under this guidance, if a person answers affirmatively or a dealer has reason to believe that the would-be purchaser is a drug user, the dealer’s responsibility is to halt the sale of a firearm or ammunition.
On Aug. 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that banning gun sales for medical marijuana users did not violate their Second Amendment rights. According to the court statement, the federal law passes muster under the Constitution, as 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.”
The world where having a medical marijuana card is the reason for the refusal in the purchase of a gun does not satisfy many residents. The issue especially concerns those who support gun rights and use marijuana as a medicine. Gun Owners of America has already stated that they are worried about the marijuana-gun issue. Members of the organization do not want the administration to use medical issues for banning law-abiding Americans from owning guns.
The U.S. Senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, thinks that the disqualification of an entire class of cannabis users who act consistently with state law from possessing a firearm shows the necessity to introduce changes into the policy. Despite the fact that she voted against the legalization of cannabis, she urges Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review the federal take on marijuana.
The concerns about gun owners using drugs are clear, but the conflict can no longer remain unresolved. The more available legal marijuana becomes, the tenser the conflict grows.
Responsible adults who use the drug in a manner that is compliant with the state laws should have the same legal rights and protections as other citizens, marijuana activists say. Numerous studies on the link between the drug use and violence have found marijuana to be an unlikely cause. According to the data from the Denver Police Department, violent crime, including sexual assault, robbery, homicide violence, and aggravated assault, dropped by almost seven percent in California in the first quarter of 2014, after weed was legalized, compared to the same period in 2013.