Back in 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released an “open letter” to Federal Firearms Licensees clarifying that selling firearms to cannabis users—even those who are permitted by state laws—was illegal. Confusion resulted from the wording of a question on Form 4473, the firearm transaction record, which reads, “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?” Most of us medical cannabis patients consider ourselves “lawful users,” but apparently the ATF doesn't.
In March of 2016, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska wrote a letter to the Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking that the federal gun regulations with regards to cannabis users be reviewed. She pointed out that while she, personally, was (and is) against the legalization of cannabis, the ban keeping legal users from obtaining firearms is a violation of the second amendment. “Without such a review,” she wrote, “I fear that otherwise law abiding citizens will choose to answer the marijuana use question on Form 4473 “NO” either [because] they believe their use is fully lawful or because they believe marijuana use consistent with state law should not subject them to a firearms disability. In either case they would potentially be exposed to criminal liability for false statements.”
For the Alaskan senator, this wasn't a battle of ideals, but a legitimate concern in a state where about 1 in 1,000 residents own a firearm, and cannabis has been legalized for recreational use. Rules like those could put a lot of her constituents behind bars. Lying on a firearm application (even if you thought you weren't) carries some serious penalties, including prison time.
The Department of Justice responded to Murkowski's letter with their own, written by Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik in October. According to this letter, until cannabis is rescheduled under the Controlled Substance Act, firearm sales to cannabis users will remain unlawful.
The letter followed a decision made in a federal appeals court in August to uphold the ban on selling firearms to medical cannabis card-holders. A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed that cannabis use “raises the risk of irrational or unpredictable behavior with which gun use should not be associated.”
Which makes my knee jerk and my trigger finger itch. I suppose the judges were unaware of a 2014 study conducted on behalf of the Homicide Research Working Group that found that 48 percent of all homicide offenders in the US tested positive at the time of their offense, for alcohol, a completely legal drug that anyone with opposable thumbs and a good eye can tell you is much more likely to induce “irrational or unpredictable behavior” than cannabis. And let's not even get into all those deliciously legal prescription opioids. No one's trying to keep any of these folks from buying firearms.
Nevertheless, the ATF made a change to Form 4473 in November:
“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.”
Firearms Licensees are required to use the new version of the form after Jan. 16.
Here's the thing: According to a Harvard/Northeastern University survey, the largest predictor of gun ownership was military service—with 44 percent of veterans reporting that they own at least one gun. Considering that the Department of Veteran's Affairs estimates that 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD and the big push from the medical cannabis industry over the past year to highlight the benefits of using the drug as a treatment for PTSD, one can see how the majority of people who will suffer from the ban will likely be veterans.
Now, before you run to your word processor to pound out a heated complaint letter about how ol' Joshie's been saying that it's a good idea to shoot things when you're high, let me stop you. Obviously, no one should operate a firearm (or car, or any heavy machinery) while under the influence of any psychoactive substance (well, except coffee or SSRIs, or sugar, or whatever). But that's not what this is really about at all. It's about retaining the rights that every other American has. I've never even fired a gun, but if any of the legal entitlements offered to everyone else in the country are denied me, then I've literally become a second-class citizen.
And I am so tired of being a second-class citizen.