Medical marijuana patients face 5-to-10 years in prison for owning a gun, says ATF

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent out a memo last week clarifying their stance that a sportsman with a shotgun and a medical marijuana card is no different than a cocaine dealer with a silenced TEC-9.

The letter, sent to federal firearm licensees and gun shops in medical marijuana states on September 21, makes it clear that federal law prohibits someone who is an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance" to purchase or own a gun. And since state medical marijuana laws mean nothing to the federal government, any state-legal medical marijuana patient who owns a firearm is breaking federal law.

It is also illegal to sell a firearm to someone who is a "user" of illicit drugs, and things like firearm background checks and concealed handgun permits all have a check box on their forms asking if you use drugs. If a medical marijuana patient checks yes, then they aren't able to purchase or carry a gun. If they answer no, then they are lying in the eyes of the feds and could face prosecution.

Never mind that whole Second Amendment thing: Violating this law carries mandatory minimum sentences of five-to-ten years depending on the circumstances and mood of the judge and prosecuting attorneys

The idea behind the laws was originally to keep violent drug crimes down via harsh penalties. Whether or not that works is up for debate, but it's an easy argument that this law was never intended to keep otherwise law-abiding citizens from exercising their right to own a firearm. And in a western state like Colorado, we're bound to have a good number of legal medical marijuana patients who also enjoy blasting some wildlife with a 12-gauge and bringing it home for dinner.

Though the timing on the memo was surprising, the stance of the ATF isn't. Westword actually got clarification on the marijuana/gun ownership issue last year in a blog post by former staffer Joel Warner. At the time, the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, which processes the ATF gun applications, had no access to the medical marijuana registry. New state medical marijuana laws have changed that situation to some degree. Law enforcement still can't blindly cross reference the entire MMJ registry with gun registries and concealed handgun permits. But agents do have the ability to search on a case-by-case basis to see who may or may not have concealed permits in the state.

It's also interesting to note that there is no law against purchasing, possessing or firing a gun with a bottle of beer in your hand. You can't be drunk, but you can be drinking. Logic and the ATF don't always see eye to eye, however. Remember, this is the same group of people who thought arming Mexican drug cartels with automatic weapons would be a good idea.

Read the original memo from the ATF below. It can also be accessed by clicking here.

ATF Letter Regarding Guns and Drugs

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana lawsuit: State says no one in Colorado has fundamental right to MMJ."