Of the many conflicts in the US between federal and state law concerning cannabis, the question of marijuana use and gun ownership is perhaps one of the most misunderstood.
This is partly due to misinformation circulating on social media channels claiming states that have legalized marijuana have also passed legislation prohibiting both medical and recreational users from owning a gun.
No state has legislated against marijuana use and gun ownership. Federal law, however, is a different matter.
In this guide, we’ll detail the differences between state and federal law concerning cannabis use and gun ownership, including for registered medical marijuana patients, as well as the ways in which some states have handled this conflict between state and federal law.
What does the law say about marijuana use and gun ownership?
Federal law that predates marijuana legalization states that users of controlled substances, including cannabis, are prohibited from possessing, shipping, transporting, or receiving firearms or ammunition.
Furthermore, it is illegal under federal law to sell firearms or ammunition to an individual whom the seller has reasonable grounds to presume is a cannabis user.
So, the prohibition on gun ownership for marijuana users is based on federal law, which takes precedence over state laws that allow for cannabis use.
To purchase a firearm, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) requires the buyer to fill out federal Form 4473. One of the questions asks:
“Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?
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.”
It is a crime to provide false information on a federal form, meaning cannabis users that disclose this fact may have their application to purchase a firearm rejected. It’s also worth noting that dual firearm and marijuana possession is subject to heightened criminal sanctions under federal law.
What about registered medical marijuana users?
As intimated by the question in Form 4473, the combination of cannabis use and firearm ownership is federally prohibited, even for registered medical marijuana patients.
However, state-level approaches regarding the enforcement of federal law varies considerably in this regard.
Several states, including New Hampshire and Maryland, have passed laws forbidding medical marijuana regulators from sharing patient information with federal agencies.
Oklahoma went a step further when Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law stipulating that state and local agencies cannot deny gun ownership rights to qualifying patients on the basis of medical cannabis use.
On the other hand, Hawaii authorizes law enforcement to access the state’s registry of medical marijuana patients. The Honolulu Police Department went so far as to inform all medical marijuana patients to hand in their firearms within 30 days, but later backed down and said it would not enforce this policy.
So long as marijuana is a federally-controlled substance and no amendments are passed into law explicitly allowing state-legal cannabis use and gun ownership, it will remain prohibited to own a gun and use marijuana under federal law.
However, no state that has legalized cannabis has passed laws requiring marijuana users to surrender their firearms or to prevent marijuana users from purchasing firearms.
Like many of the issues arising from the disjoint between federal and state cannabis laws, gun ownership and marijuana use operates in a legal gray area for the time-being.
If you are concerned how this may affect you, it’s best to seek professional legal counsel from an expert in cannabis law.