Guns and Marijuana: Can Medical Cannabis Consumers Own a Gun?

With the ongoing political firestorm around medical and recreational marijuana, people are asking a lot more questions about what is and isn’t allowed with regards to cannabis. One question we’ve been getting a lot is: Can I use medical cannabis and own a gun? The answer here is a resounding “no.” But why is that, and what’s being done about it? To fully answer these questions, let’s explore the murky world of guns and marijuana.

The Federal Fracas

Much like all cannabis-related problems medical patients face, the federal government is behind all the furor. Questions about medical cannabis and gun rights began cropping up more frequently around 2010, as more states legalized medical marijuana. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) received enough inquiries about it in 2011 to warrant the issuance of an open letter addressed to all federal firearms licensees. Part of the letter reads:

“As you know, Federal law, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3), prohibits any person who is an ‘unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802))’ from shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition. Marijuana is listed in the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I controlled substance, and there are no exceptions in Federal law for marijuana purportedly used for medicinal purposes, even if such use is sanctioned by State law.”

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Since marijuana is still illegal at the Federal level, the federal government (and therefore the ATF) still won’t let you exercise your second amendment right, even if the marijuana you consume is medical and in compliance with your state’s medical cannabis program.

How Is This Enforced?

Well, that’s the tricky part. When purchasing a gun, you have to fill out the ATF Firearms Transaction Record (Form 4473). You’re required to answer an ominous question: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?”

The revised version of this form is in use as of January 2017, with the addition of this sternly worded 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.”

Still, they’re often relying on the honor system, and plenty of people who do not qualify under these parameters get their guns anyway. However, in certain states, there is a registry of medical marijuana patients that’s referenced during background checks.

Hawaii, for example, has a state registry for both guns and marijuana. It was easy for them to match the two databases up, and they began sending letters to medical marijuana patients demanding they relinquish any and all firearms within 30 days.

No other states have integrated databases, and enforcement is much spottier there. In fact, a 2017 study points out that 22 percent of gun owners who had acquired their firearms in the past two years obtained them without a background check.

The Bottom Line

Woman Firing Handgun at Gun Range
Photo by: Robert Przybysz/Shutterstock
While it’s federally illegal for medical cannabis patients to purchase or own a firearm, it’s very unclear what will happen to those who had firearms before being issued their card. Even Hawaii’s police department rescinded their demands for patients to give up their guns, and reissued all two returned firearms back to their owners.

Many patients in all legal states have had their permits denied or revoked, but it doesn’t happen in all cases. As we continue the slow march toward full legalization, this issue should see a lot more light and more serious discussion. Hopefully, medical cannabis patients will see their rights restored, including rights associated with guns and marijuana.