As if it didn’t have enough trouble, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has opened a new can of worms with a Sept. 21 letter to Federal Firearms Licensees explaining that medical marijuana users are prohibited from buying or even possessing firearms or ammunition.
This is going to cause no small amount of consternation among Pacific Northwest pot advocates who will quickly argue that taking a toke is no more or less harmful than downing a slug of “red-eye” before heading to the range or hunting camp. Recall the Kirkland marijuana shootout in March 2010 that this column discussed here, here and here.
Currently under fire for Operation Fast and Furious, the agency may now find itself at odds with liberal gun owners who either smoke pot, or believe that it is a harmless substance, and that smoking it is a “victimless crime.”
A number of States have passed legislation allowing under State law the use or possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and some of these States issue a card authorizing the holder to use or possess marijuana under State law. During a firearms transaction, a potential transferee may advise you that he or she is a user of medical marijuana, or present a medical marijuana card as identification or proof of residency.
The letter, signed by Arthur Herbert, assistant director of the ATF’s Enforcement Programs and Services, is already stirring up a conversation on the 1911TechTalk e-mail chat group, and no doubt will liven things up on several local forums.
Circulated Monday by the National Shooting Sports Foundation via its weekly Bullet Points e-mail newsletter, the ATF letter spells everything out. If you’re a gun dealer, don’t sell firearms or ammunition to anyone who smokes pot. If you’re a pot user, don’t try to buy firearms, don’t try to buy ammunition, and if you have guns and ammunition now, better move them out and just say “no” to drugs.
As you know, Federal law, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3), prohibits any person who is an ‘unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in Section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)) “from shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition. Marijuana is listed in the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I controlled substance, and there are no exceptions in Federal law for marijuana purportedly used for medicinal purposes, even if such is sanctioned by State law. Further, federal law, 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(3), makes it unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance. As provided by 27 C.F.R. 478.11 “an inference of current use may be drawn from evidence of a recent use or possession of a controlled substance or a pattern of use or possession that reasonably covers the present time.”
From an agency that is currently in a lot of trouble for having possibly “flexed” the law – or at least tiptoed around its finer points – to facilitate Operation Fast and Furious (an idea that, if one thinks about it enough, seems to have been dreamed up by someone or several someones who were stoned at the time), the ATF is showing no flexibility at all on the marijuana issue. In this case, ATF has federal statute to back up its rigidity.
Therefore, any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her State has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.
Marijuana advocates consistently argue that pot is non-addictive and leaves no harmful long-term after-effects, and that it does have some benefits for people suffering from various diseases, including cancer. The ATF doesn’t see it that way.
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