While the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has been legal in California for years, with the passage of California’s Proposition 64, it became legal for Californians to use marijuana recreationally. However, taking advantage of this newfound freedom could have unintended consequences for California gun owners.
Using marijuana - even in a state where it is legal to do so - makes one a prohibited person under federal law.
Since the passage of the federal Gun Control Act in 1968, it has been illegal for “a person who is an unlawful user of or who is addicted to a controlled substance” to possess a firearm or ammunition.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives has recently revised form 4473, the federal form that every firearms purchaser must fill out when purchasing a firearms from a licensed dealer, with a warning to ensure that the next time you answer Question 11e there is no doubt that “use of marijuana is still unlawful under federal law.”
According to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, this same federal law also prohibits people who merely possess a medical marijuana card from purchasing a gun. A Nevada woman whose gun purchase was denied because the dealer recognized her as a person who had a medical marijuana card challenged the law, but lost. In that case:
Rowan Wilson maintained that she didn't actually use marijuana, but obtained a card to make a political statement in support of liberalizing marijuana law.
In 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms clarified in a letter that the law applies to marijuana users "regardless of whether [their] State has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes."
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the federal law passes muster with the Constitution, as "it is beyond dispute that illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely as a consequence of that use to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior."
The court then concluded that it is reasonable to assume that a medical marijuana cardholder is a marijuana user, and hence reasonable to deny their gun purchase on those grounds.
Anyone who might be tempted to not be entirely truthful when answering Question 11e should bear in mind that if you’re caught lying on that form, it is a felony and a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison. And as a felon, you lose your gun rights, period.
The number of states allowing recreational and/or medicinal use of marijuana is growing. It will be interesting to see how this issue is dealt with in the long-term, but for now, using marijuana - even lawfully under state law- can cost your gun rights, potentially for life.