Until quite recently US law on cannabis and gun ownership was pretty clear. Cannabis is classed as a Schedule 1 drug and possession of it is an offense under federal law, so if the government knew you enjoyed the occasional joint you probably had a criminal record and weren’t allowed to own guns anyway. Recently it’s been getting more complicated, though. Federal law still says the drug’s illegal, but more and more states are passing medical marijuana laws that say you can use it if you quality. Some government officials have said that even if you buy your cannabis legally you’re still not allowed to own a gun – but what does the law really say?
- One of the few restrictions on gun ownership that covers the whole US is that, if you’re a convicted felon, you’re not allowed to own guns. That makes sense, of course. The principle behind the Second Amendment is that, if the citizenry – or enough of them, anyway – are armed, they’ll be able to protect themselves against oppressive governments, foreign invaders and criminals.
- Obviously, if criminals have guns too, it’s harder to protect yourself against them. So if you’ve shown that you’re willing to break the law in more than the most minor way, you’re banned from owning weapons that would let you commit more serious crimes.
- Where it gets tricky is that, increasingly, something that’s still seen as a serious crime by the federal government – using cannabis – is becoming legal at a state level.
- According to the BATF, which has overall responsibility for gun laws, any use of marijuana – even if it’s bought legally for medicinal purposes – disqualifies you from owning guns and ammunition.
- Cops in Pennsylvania are already warning that anyone who enrols in the state’s upcoming medical marijuana program won’t be allowed to buy guns – and it will be illegal for them to hang on to any they already have, too.
- Critics say the law makes no sense. It’s okay to own guns if you’re an alcoholic or addicted to medical opioids, so why should cannabis be treated so differently? The drug most often involved in gun crime is alcohol, but drinking a bottle of whiskey a day won’t affect your 2A rights at all.
- Some gun owners are worried that this is the thin end of a very worrying wedge. If people can be deprived of their guns for using one medicine, what’s next? Will it become illegal for anyone on antidepressants to own guns, too? The NRA is staying unusually silent on this issue, but in our increasingly medicated society any attempt to link the right to bear arms with what medicine you’re using needs to be resisted.