Guns and Pot: An Increasing Conflict

Guns and Pot: An Increasing Conflict
Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowksi says something has to be done about the conflict between state and federal laws.photo from politico.com

The 2016 voting season brought a lot of surprises besides electing Donald Trump as president: namely the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in many states. Why should gun owners care? Because when state laws conflict with federal laws, things tend to get a little screwy.

We reported in September that a federal appeals court says it's legal and constitutional for those with medical marijuana cards to have their second amendment rights suspended.

Last week, voters in eight states approved marijuana-related ballot initiatives. Now, 28 states and Washington D.C. allow marijuana use in some form, including eight that allow recreational use.

The conflict arises when you buy a gun and fill out an ATF Form 4473. There's a big list of yes/no questions, including Question 11(e), which asks if the purchaser is an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana. If you answer yes, even if it is completely legal in the state in which you live, you won’t be getting a firearm.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, where both medicinal and recreational marijuana is legal, says in this Wall Street Journal story that she became keenly aware of the contradiction when she picked up a new Benelli shotgun her husband an sons ordered her as a gift and she had to fill out her 4473 Form.

“The senator doesn’t use pot, but she was taken aback by the notion that an activity that is legal in her state could block gun ownership. ‘I don’t like marijuana—I voted against legalization—but we passed it,’ Murkowski said in the interview. ‘Now, you’ve got this conflict.’”

As the story points out, federal law still says that anyone who uses marijuana—even medicinally—is doing so illegally and cannot buy a firearm. And the conflict is upsetting advocates for gun ownership and marijuana use, groups that don't often align.

"'This idea that you somehow waive your Second Amendment rights if you smoke marijuana' is wrong, Keith Stroup, founder of NORML, which advocates marijuana legalization, told the Wall Street Journal. "In particular, if you are using marijuana as a medicine, the idea that you have to choose between your health and the Second Amendment is offensive.'"

The feds are unwavering in their position. Just last August the DEA publicly reaffirmed marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, which means it supposedly has no medicinal value and cannot even be studied by doctors.

"The Gun Control Act prohibitions are governed by the Controlled Substances Act, and marijuana remains an illegal, controlled substance under federal law," said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr, in the story.

The Justice Department oversees the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which regulates licensed gun dealers; as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which runs background checks; and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which classifies drugs, the story says.

From the story: "The marijuana-gun issue is one of the stranger outcomes of an unusual conflict between state laws, which increasingly allow marijuana use, and federal law, which continues to view pot-smoking as a crime."

So what it comes down to is a system of honesty. If a would-be gun buyer is a marijuana user, and answers honestly to the pot question on the 4474 Form, they cannot buy a gun. If they don’t answer honestly, they are committing a crime.

Under ATF guidelines, gun dealers have to halt a sale if they have reason to believe the purchaser is a pot smoker.

"There are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana purportedly used for medicinal purposes, even if such use is sanctioned by State law," the guidelines say.

The NRA and many other gun rights groups have been silent on the issue, the story says, perhaps because it's such a sticky issue for those who advocate gun rights but oppose marijuana use.

Officials at Gun Owners of America did say something about the issue. "GOA finds it very troubling that the Obama administration would use medical issues to ban law-abiding Americans from owning firearms," said the group's executive director, Erich Pratt, in the story.

The story says Murkowski wrote Attorney General Loretta Lynch in March urging her to reconsider the policy.

“In my judgment, the disqualification of an entire class of marijuana users acting consistent with state law from possessing any firearm merits a review of federal legal policy,” she wrote.

Murkowski said in the story she understands the concerns about gun owners using marijuana, but said similar dangers exist regarding alcohol.

The story says marijuana advocates report legal users of the drug are discriminated against in other ways as well, from child custody and banking to student loans and public housing.