On June 26, 2018, voters in Oklahoma overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana by approving SQ 788. The legality of having a gun while possessing a medical marijuana license became a hot topic immediately after the vote. According to federal law, it’s illegal to possess a gun if you are a medical marijuana license holder regardless of state law.
The federal law that controls this issue is 18 U.S.C. § 922. Subsection (g) states that it’s unlawful for “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) to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.” Succinctly, anyone who illegally uses any drug defined as a controlled substance by the federal government cannot possess a gun. Marijuana is a Schedule I substance on the federal schedule, so the federal government considers every user of marijuana an illegal use of a controlled substance. Possessing a state license for medical marijuana doesn’t make somebody a legal marijuana user in the eyes of the federal government. Note that you don’t have to be an addict for this statute to apply—merely a user.
Possessing a gun or ammunition as a user of illegal drugs is a felony. The maximum punishment in federal prison is ten years. Furthermore, it’s illegal “for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person . . . 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)).” Succinctly, it’s illegal to sell or transfer a gun to someone you reasonably believe is an illegal drug user. What could give someone the reasonable belief that you’re an illegal drug user? A medical marijuana license! The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives stated in a 2011 letter that if a transferor knows that a potential transferee of a firearm possesses a card authorizing the possession and use of marijuana under state law, then the transferor has “reasonable cause to believe” that the person trying to get the firearm is an unlawful user of a controlled substance. The ATF further stated that “any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her State has passed legislation authorizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”
Knowingly transferring a firearm or ammunition to a user of illegal drugs is a felony. The maximum punishment in federal prison is ten years.
If you buy a gun, you have to fill out ATF Form 4473, Firearms Transaction Record. Question 11e asks, “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?” And right after that question, it has in bold print “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.” A gun seller may not legally sell a gun to anyone who checks “yes” to that question.
The bottom line is that you lose your gun rights if you use marijuana—whether it’s illegally or under a state-sanctioned medical marijuana program. Nobody may legally sell a gun or ammunition to someone they reasonably believe uses marijuana. Therefore, individuals seeking a medical marijuana license will have to weigh the risks and benefits of that course of action.
As more states legalize marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use, something clearly needs to give here. Oklahoma’s approval of medical marijuana has been called a tipping point in the legalization of marijuana, and more states will follow. For now, however, it’s a federal crime to own a gun and use marijuana, and it’s a federal crime to transfer a gun to a marijuana user. The federal government must remove the threat of violating a federal law from otherwise law-abiding citizens and remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances.