With the country ablaze in sweeping medical and recreational marijuana reform, it is important to remember that the drug is still verboten on a federal level. In fact, sweet Mary Jane has been condemned as a schedule-one substance — those deemed most dangerous by the feds because they provide no medicinal value and run the highest risk of addiction — since old Dick Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, created the whole “scheduling” scheme in 1970.
As of this writing, 10 U.S. states (plus D.C.) have legalized recreational weed, while 32 allow consumption for medical relief for everything from glaucoma to anxiety and, of course, loss of appetite. It stands to reason that many of you reading this are residents of one of these states where cannabis is “legal.” But here’s the thing: Uncle Sam still says no.
They’re Not Blowing Smoke
So how does this affect you, the responsibly armed American? If you’ve ever purchased a firearm through a broker with a Federal Firearms License (FFL), you’ve encountered ATF Form 4473. Line 11e is where we find the sticky (icky) wicket. The line reads, in its entirety:
Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance? Warning: The 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.
I didn’t add that bold for emphasis; they did. If you use marijuana while within the United States, you cannot lawfully answer “Yes” to line 11e. But if you are a user and you answer “No,” you’ve knowingly committed perjury, which is a felony.
Those “unlawful users” described in ATF Form 4473 are, by definition, “prohibited persons” and may not “ship, transport, receive or possess firearms or ammunition.” Period.
The Toking Gun
No matter on which side of the “legalize it” debate you stand, I think we can all agree that possessing, handling or carrying a firearm while “altered” is a patently terrible idea. But what if you roasted a phat doobie with your friend Willie one Saturday, then 10 days later found yourself involved in a legitimate self-defense situation? The physical effects of the drug will have worn off by then and likely can’t be claimed to have clouded your judgment. But what if an aggressive prosecutor orders a drug test? Traces of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can remain in your blood, urine and saliva for a few days (up to a month or longer for chronic users) — and hair testing can tattle your tale for up to three months!
The prosecution could build a strong case that you, an “unlawful user of a controlled substance,” were therefore illegally in possession of the firearm used to take someone’s life. How do you think that will affect your case? If you purchased that gun through an FFL within the 90-day-hair-test window, it could also demonstrate that you lied on a federal document.
Potentially Losing Insurance Coverage
Depending on the specific exceptions and limitations of your insurance or umbrella liability coverage for self-defense, the fact that you took someone’s life — whether or not it was a justified act of self-defense — while illegally in possession of a firearm could nullify your coverage. You and your family could be left out in the cold.
Winds of Change
The ratification of the Agriculture Improvement Act in 2018 changed laws concerning the production, marketing and sale of cannabidiol (CBD). But it should be noted that the parameters of this legalization allow for only trace amounts — 0.3 percent on a dry-weight basis — of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
On Jan. 9, 2019, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced bill HR 420 with the short title of “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.” Of course, 420 is a tip of the hat to vernacular embraced by the stoner subculture. If the bill passes into law, it would remove marijuana from the schedule of controlled substances. However, restrictions regarding production, marketing, transportation, sales, taxation and use would apply — similar to those currently placed on alcohol. The bill also proposes moving the administration of cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Is It Worth It?
Until the day that cannabis is legalized on a federal level and removed from the DEA’s schedule of controlled substances, there is no magical loophole around the information described above. As a responsibly armed American, it is up to you to decide if imbibing in the devil’s lettuce is worth sacrificing your legal right to bear arms.
I hope you choose wisely.
About Jason Braun
Jason Braun works as a proofreader and content assistant for Concealed Carry Magazine. He enjoys writing, illustration and the great outdoors. One of Jason’s favorite aspects of his position within the USCCA is his “duty” — pleasure, really — to read and learn about self-defense, home defense and the concealed carry lifestyle. His everyday carry is a .45 XD-S Mod.2 from Springfield Armory.