A federal law banning gun sales to individuals who use illegal drugs is causing confusion and anger among cannabis users as access to cannabis has expanded dramatically across the country over the past several years.
Increased cannabis access
As of Election Day 2016, 29 states now allow for the legal use of cannabis. Eight of those 29 states, including California, the most populous state in the nation, allow for recreational use.
With millions of people now granted access to legal cannabis, users, particularly medical users, are voicing concern that the federal ban on gun access to users of banned substances infringes upon their Second Amendment rights.
The conflict has caught the attention of cannabis activists and politicians, many of whom identify a conflict that is likely to become more pronounced as increasing numbers of states move forward with legalization.
Keith Stroup, the founder of the cannabis activist group NORML, spoke out against the ban on gun rights to cannabis users, saying that it is particularly unfair to those using the substance for health reasons.
This idea that you somehow waive your Second Amendment rights if you smoke marijuana [is wrong]… In particular, if you are using marijuana as a medicine, the idea that you have to choose between your health and the Second Amendment is offensive.
Stroup’s opinion has been echoed by NORML’s deputy director Paul Armentano.
Responsible adults who use cannabis in a manner that is compliant with the laws of their states ought to receive the same legal rights and protections as other citizens.
The issue in recent months became the subject of a high-profile federal court case.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles matters under the jurisdiction of a cluster of Western states, including Oregon, Washington, and California, in August ruled that the government’s policy did not encroach on Americans’ constitutional rights.
In their unanimous opinion, the court’s three judges agreed that cannabis, like any other federally banned substance, warranted the suspension of an individual’s gun rights,
[S]tudies and surveys relied on in similar cases suggest a significant link between drug use, including marijuana, and violence.
The judges did not see fit to carve out exceptions to the rule for medical cannabis users, saying that such an exception would not be sufficient,
[An exepction is] not sufficient to overcome Congress’s reasonable conclusion that the use of such drugs raises the risk of irrational or unpredicatable behavior with which gun use should not be associated.
Gun access down the road
Despite the disappointment felt amongst those people at the intersection of cannabis use and prospective firearm ownership, there is still reason for them to remain hopeful.
The issue has not only caught the attention of cannabis activists; it has also been the focus of gun-rights groups, who have expressed support for the Second Amendment rights of cannabis users.
Erich Pratt, the executive director of the pro-gun organization Gun Owners of America, was outspoken in his support of cannabis users,
GOA finds it very troubling that the Obama administration would use medical issues to ban law-abiding Americans from owning firearms.
The group’s outspokenness creates an unlikely alliance of those on the Left and Right in addressing the issue.
The issue has even caught the attention of conservative Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who represents a state that allows for the legal use of recreational cannabis.
The senator recently spoke out on the issue, saying that while she is not a supporter of cannabis use, she recognizes the burgeoning problem that the conflict could pose in her state going forward.