Marijuana and Concealed Carry Laws: What Gun Owners Need to Know
Under federal law, anyone who uses cannabis for any purpose, including a medical cannabis cardholder, is not allowed to buy or possess a firearm. Cannabis users can break the law in two instances: When purchasing a gun and owning or possessing a firearm. Our marijuana and concealed carry laws guide covers the relevant laws and penalties for owning a gun as a marijuana user.
Gun Control Act and Controlled Substances Act
According to the federal Gun Control Act, a person who uses a controlled substance is prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition. Cannabis is listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I substances are defined as having a high risk of abuse and no medicinal value.
ATF Sends Open Letter to Licensed Gun Sellers
In September 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) sent an open letter to all federal firearm licensees (FFLs) stating that knowingly selling a gun to any cannabis user, even if possession is legal in their state, would violate federal law. Gun dealers would risk losing their license if they knowingly sold to cannabis users.
The letter stated that “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 use 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 is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance,” the letter continued.
Cannabis User Sues the ATF and U.S Department of Justice
In October 2011, S. Rowan Wilson tried to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer in Nevada. She voluntarily told the store that she had a medical cannabis card. The dealer let her know that he had reasonable cause to think she used medical cannabis and denied the sale.
Wilson sued the U.S Attorney General and the ATF for violating her Second Amendment rights. A lower court dismissed her complaint, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the ATF and U.S. Department of Justice.
How Does ATF Regulate Firearm Purchases
Federal law does not require universal background checks for all gun purchases. That means background checks are not required for private sales or transfers between people in the same state, also known as the “gun show loophole.” However, firearm licensees must conduct background checks for all firearm purchases.
Some states allow private party firearm sales to occur without a background check. Fourteen states prohibit private party firearm sales for any firearms. Two states permit private party sales of long guns (rifles, shotguns, carbines, etc.) only, not handguns.
Medical Cannabidiol and Firearms
Under Iowa Code chapter 124E, Iowa residents, who submit written certification by a heath care practitioner that they are suffering from a certain debilitating medical condition, can apply to the Department of Public Health for a medical cannabidiol registration card. This card enables Iowans access to concentrated extracts of marijuana containing both THC and CBD to treat their health condition.
Although the use of marijuana extracts for medical purposes is sanctioned under Iowa law, both marijuana and THC remain Schedule I controlled substances under federal law.
This poses a real problem for those card holders who wish to simultaneously exercise their right to possess a firearm under the Second Amendment and Iowa Code chapter 724.
Any person who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition under federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3). Furthermore, under 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(3), federal law makes it unlawful for any person to sell a firearm to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.” As provided in 27 C.F.R. § 478.11, the Code of Federal Regulations permit that “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.”
As a result, an Iowa card holder will be considered an unlawful user of a federally scheduled controlled substance by the ATF. They must answer YES to question 11.e on ATF Form 4473, the Firearm Transaction Record, which will prohibit them from receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition. If a firearm dealer is aware that a potential transferee is in possession of an Iowa Medical Cannabidiol card, then the dealer has “reasonable cause to believe” that the person is an unlawful user. The dealer cannot transfer firearms or ammunition to that person even if the person answered NO to question 11.e on ATF Form 4473. The warning on the form is very clear: “[T]he 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.”
Until this conflict is resolved, card holders must be aware that untruthful answers to question 11.e can subject them to federal criminal penalties, including perjury and illegal firearm possession.