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In Some States, Medical Marijuana Users Must Choose Between Ganja or a Gun

The Federal Government says gun owners can't use marijuana. States believe otherwise. Legal chaos ensues.

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A bizarre, new legal issue has emerged in recent months that may leave those wishing to use medical marijuana having to choose between using pot or owning a gun.


That’s because federal law in the United States still lists marijuana as an illegal drug. And under federal law, it’s a crime if someone in possession of an illegal drug also possesses a firearm.

Welcome to yet another reel around the thorny bush of federal vs. state marijuana laws. While an increasing number of states have legalized marijuana, the federal government refuses to budge. As a result, even common sense issues about the plant are cloaked in confusion.

Related: 5 Facts About the First-Ever Cannabis Speakeasy That Just Opened in Las Vegas

Guns and Marijuana in Missouri, Pennsylvania

The latest example of the gun vs. pot issue is in Missouri, where state voters approved a ballot proposal to amend the state constitution and legalize medical marijuana in the Show Me State.

The ballots had barely been counted when the gun issue reared its controversial head.

The amendment, called New Approach Missouri, included provisions to protect the right to own a firearm and use medical marijuana. However, a spokesperson for the campaign told KAIT TV 8 out of Jonesboro, Ark., that  "unfortunately just like the other 32 states that have a medical marijuana program, there are some federal laws that do complicate that.”

Those complications also have arisen in Pennsylvania, where medical marijuana is legal. When Dr. Matthew Roman -- a practicing physician in Philadelphia who uses medical marijuana -- went to a south Philadelphia gun shop to buy a handgun for self-defense, he was asked if he used marijuana. When he told the gun dealer he did, he was told that he couldn’t be sold a gun. “The doc answered that question truthfully. And the dealer said, ‘I can’t sell you a gun,’” the physician’s attorney told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Dr. Roman has sued the U.S. Department of Justice, saying not selling him a gun denied his Second and Fifth Amendment rights.

Related: Despite Being Illegal Under Federal Law, Cannabis Has Grown Into a $9 Billion Industry In States Where It Is Legal.

What The Law Says

So, what does the law actually say? The Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives put out a memo years ago that outlined the provisions. According to the memo:

  • Federal law prohibits any person who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” from shipping, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition.
  • Federal law places marijuana among Schedule I illegal drugs, the highest level possible and on par with heroin and LSD
  • There “are no exceptions” for those who use medical marijuana, “even if such use is sanctioned by state law.”

Roman’s attorney said the wiggle room in the law could be the nature of a regulated medical marijuana market. For example, the fact that a person must enter a state program, get an ID card and a doctor’s prescription for marijuana indicates they are not using marijuana in an “unlawful” way.

That’s just speculation, of course, until the lawsuit is resolved. And while the memo is a few years old, the ATF still holds the same position, spokesman John Ham told the TV station in Jonesboro.

“Whether you cross state lines or not, it would be a violation of federal law for you to be in possession of the gun if you are a user of marijuana," he said, adding that ATF will enforce federal law “until there is a change to federal law either with marijuana being on the controlled substances list or a change to federal firearms law.”

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