With Gun-Giving So Popular This Time of Year…Know There is a ‘Cannabis Exception’ to the U.S. Constitution

“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.”

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives just doubled down on its efforts to keep guns away from cannabis patients and legal adult-use consumers in November with this new explicit clarification. The ATF is releasing a revised version of Form 4473 that adds a new warning statement reminding applicants that marijuana is still considered federally illegal despite state laws allowing medical cannabis or adult use. This is not a new rule, rather a clarification.

At the end of August, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a federal ban on the sale of guns to medical marijuana card holders does not violate the Second Amendment. Using her right under the Second Amendment seemed like a sound argument for S. Rowan Wilson, a Nevada woman who tried to purchase a firearm for self-defense after obtaining a medical marijuana card. She challenged guidance issued by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2011 that said gun sellers should assume people with medical marijuana cards use the drug and not sell them firearms.

Instead, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals— which includes California, Washington, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon—chose to rule in favor of a 1968 federal law prohibiting the sale of firearms to any unlawful user of a federally controlled substance. In a 3-0 decision, the court concluded that “[The plaintiff in this case] does not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in simultaneously holding a [medical cannabis] registry card and purchasing a firearm.” Further, it found that it is reasonable for federal regulators to assume a medical marijuana cardholder is more likely to use the drug.

Don’t get me wrong. Sensible gun regulations are needed in the United States. There were over 50,000 incidents of gun violence last year and nearly 13,000 people were killed in our country in gun homicide, unintentional shooting or murder/suicide. That’s an average of 36 Americans killed by guns each day, or a commercial plane crashing once a week.

But this isn’t about gun control. This is about blatantly targeting cannabis users and, MMJ card holders in particular. There simply isn’t justification for a ‘marijuana exception’ to the U.S. Constitution. It is unjust and bigotry laden.

First of all, federal law related to gun ownership is already very lenient. For instance, gun ownership is allowable for those convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes (other than domestic violence) and people who are mentally ill unless they have been committed to psychiatric institutions or have been judged to be mentally deficient in legal proceedings. Plus, Congress recently rejected legislation outlawing gun purchases by people on the government’s terror watch list.

Not only does the 9th Circuit’s decision fly in the face of justice, there’s no scientific evidence pointing to an uptick in gun crime among cannabis users where medical and adult cannabis use is legal. A Drug Policy Alliance study showed that one year after Washington State legalized adult-use marijuana, violent crime rates declined and another study showed that Colorado has benefitted from a decrease in crime rates, a decrease in traffic fatalities, and an increase in tax revenue and economic output from retail marijuana sales. And, a University of Texas at Dallas nationwide study found that legalizing medical cannabis may actually lead to a reduction in violent crime.

We’ve said it before. Lumping medical cannabis patients with other drug users and violent criminals doesn’t make sense. It is why thousands of inmates convicted of marijuana-related crimes have been released from federal prisons under the Obama Administration.

As our friend NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “Responsible adults who use cannabis in a manner that is compliant with the laws of their states ought to receive the same legal rights and protections as other citizens.”

So true.

But, we must stay the course. No one ever said that advocating for cannabis or constitutional rights would be easy.

The current version of Form 4473 <https://www.atf.gov/file/61446/download> reads: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?” Gun sellers are relying on their customers to tell the truth — and lying on a U.S. government form is equated to committing a federal felony crime. The ATF added the warning in quotes above to the newly revised form <https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/undefined/atf-form-4473-firearms-transaction-record-53009-revised/download>, which goes into circulation on Jan. 16, 2017.

Dale headshot thumbnailDale Sky Jones
Oaksterdam University
Executive Chancellor