Dear Stoner: Why can’t I own a gun if I’m a medical marijuana patient?
Dear Angel: Because you’re a criminal. Not in our eyes, of course, but in the eyes of the federal government, which doesn’t recognize marijuana as anything but an illegal drug. When you buy a new gun, you’ve got to fill out a form with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that asks if you are “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.” And although your red card makes cannabis use legal at the state level, for Uncle Sam it doesn’t change the fact that you are an “unlawful user” of marijuana. If you answer “no” to that question, you’re committing perjury. And if you answer “yes,” you’re not getting your gun. Sellers can also be fined or jailed if they know they’re selling a gun or ammunition to a pot user. (For what it’s worth, you can legally drink booze while possessing a gun as long as you aren’t drunk.) Colorado law, including laws for concealed carry, says the same thing federal law does. In fact, the only medical-cannabis state to expressly allow patients to keep their firearms is Illinois.
Interestingly, gun owners are not allowed to be around people who are known pot users or growers. The idea was to create sentence-enhancing crimes for armed drug dealers, but it’s having unintended effects on the legal marijuana industry. For example, security guards hired to watch over a medical marijuana dispensary technically can’t be armed. But Colorado officials have said they’ll look the other way when it comes to that and have openly allowed armed-guard services for things like money and pot transfers.
Ask a Stoner
State law enforcement agencies have repeatedly told us they cannot cross-check against the medical marijuana patient registry when doing background checks for firearm purchases; under the Colorado Constitution, they can’t access that information for that. (Only police who have been presented a medical marijuana registry card can call to verify it with the state health department.)
But don’t think for a second that the feds wouldn’t use your gun against you in court if you find yourself there on pot-growing charges. Washington’s Larry Harvey, who had his medical cannabis grow raided by feds last year, was charged with having guns “in furtherance of drug trafficking” — for a turkey-hunting shotgun and a deer-hunting rifle that he kept locked up. He now faces up to life in prison. A federal judge in Nevada nixed proposed changes to that policy earlier this year, so don’t expect it to change anytime soon.
Our advice? Learn bow hunting or kung fu.
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