New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed last week a bill legalizing recreational marijuana use, but the legislation doesn’t exempt pot smokers from federal statutes prohibiting gun ownership.
Now, New York residents face a choice: keep the joint or pack the heat.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Federal Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 prohibit anyone from possessing a gun who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.” Even though marijuana is now legal in New York State, it is still illegal under federal law. Therefore, anyone who uses marijuana would be considered an “unlawful user.”
As ATF Form 4473 helpfully explains, “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.”
It will be difficult for federal law enforcement to know about a gun owner’s marijuana use if he/she does not admit to it and is never federally prosecuted for some other crime. But upstanding gun owners are still concerned about breaking federal law, and the resulting conundrum has prompted federal lawmakers to act.
West Virginia Rep. Alexander Mooney introduced the “Second Amendment Protection Act” in 2019 that would have allowed those who use marijuana for medical purposes to own firearms. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, but it was never considered.
In 2016, the 9th Circuit Court ruled those federal laws that prohibit drug users from purchasing firearms still apply to medical marijuana users, even in states where marijuana use has been decriminalized for medical or recreational use. The court argued that there is a strong link between drug use, including marijuana use, and violence, and the federal ban is therefore justified.
For those less squeamish about breaking federal statutes, New York’s law does have one positive effect: medical marijuana users can now get marijuana without obtaining a special ID card.
States with a gun registry and a requirement to obtain medical marijuana cards have been known to cross-reference those lists and send threatening letters to gun owners who use medical marijuana.
In Hawaii, for example, the Honolulu Police Department issued in 2017 letters to approximately 30 gun owners and marijuana users demanding that they turn in their firearms. The HPD backed down from enforcing that policy, but it demonstrates how conflicting laws can make trouble for even the most law-abiding Americans.
New York’s new law allows any resident over 21 years old to obtain weed without registering for an ID, making weed easier to get in the state than constitutionally protected firearms.