Don’t Let Your Self-Defense Case “Go to Pot”

As of January 1st, California residents may now legally buy and use marijuana for recreational purposes. In three other states — Alaska, Colorado and Washington — the sale and possession of marijuana is legal for both medical and non-medical use; legalization is also pending in Oregon. In twenty-three states, marijuana is legal for medical purposes only. Washington D.C. has legalized personal use but not commercial sale. But even if it’s legal in your home state, possessing it in a prohibited state can land you in jail, likely costing you your carry rights.

I am not going to get into the pros and cons of legalization. My concern is that those of you who regularly carry firearms are aware of the potential pitfalls, should you choose to engage in even occasional pot smoking. Like alcohol, marijuana use carries with it some inherent risks.

I never, ever drink when I carry, just as I don’t when I ride my motorcycle. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of riders stop for “a beer” now and then, with no tragic outcome. But over the years, I’ve actually attended the funerals of even experienced riders. Riding is dangerous enough when you’re sober, and even one drink has been shown to diminish the ability of riders to navigate simple road courses. The way I figure it, why take a chance when you don’t have to?

And if only one drink can impair a driver who is simply coming home from a dinner with friends, imagine the effect on someone’s skill in the middle of a violent, chaotic assault. Which is why I follow the same rule when it comes to carrying my gun. Why would I want to be anything but in complete control of my faculties when the worst happens? But whether alcohol, marijuana or any other mind-altering substance, there is another danger: a legal one.

Rest assured that if you become involved in a lethal-force encounter, especially if you have fired your gun, you WILL have to submit to testing. If you have ANY alcohol in your system, even well under the legal limit in your state, the prosecutor will use it against you. He or she will bring out a medical expert who will testify (correctly) that even a small amount of alcohol will have at least some effect on your perceptions, reaction time, etc. And that’s all it takes.

And just as with alcohol, the presence of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in your bloodstream can have a powerful effect on a potential jury … and never to your benefit. Once the jury has doubts about your state of mind, they can more easily be persuaded that your fear of death or injury — and your subsequent use of force — was not “reasonable.”

By the way, having a prescription for medical marijuana doesn’t necessarily help. Colorado in particular has had a sharp increase in DUI convictions, even when the user was using legally prescribed pot. And when it comes to deadly force cases, it can still cause a jury to question your competence.

For the record, I don’t use pot. But the bottom line is that if I did, even for purely medical purposes, I would be extremely careful about how soon afterward I’d carry. And when it comes to recreational use, I would recommend the same rules as for alcohol. If you’re going to carry, be smart. Just don’t.