When it comes to gun ownership and illegal narcotics, it would be no surprise to anyone anywhere to learn that the federal government has a zero tolerance policy. Indeed, this stance can be traced all the way back to 1968 when Congress passed the landmark Gun Control Act of 1968, which makes it illegal for an “unlawful user and/or an addict of any controlled substance” to purchase any sort of firearm.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, tasked with carrying out the law, set strict limits thereafter, including the introduction of a longstanding provision outlawing the sale of guns and ammunition to users of marijuana, a Schedule I drug, citing the risk of “irrational and unpredictable behavior.”
While there was virtually nothing to debate regarding this issue for decades, uncertainly began to arise over the last several years, as more states legalized marijuana for medicinal and even recreational purposes. In fact, the uncertainty became even greater given the federal government’s largely laissez faire approach to these major shifts in drug policy at the state level.
Things did become somewhat clearer in 2011, however, when the ATF issued a memo to gun dealers across the nation informing them that 1) the longstanding prohibition against selling firearms and ammunition to marijuana users still applies even if a person holds a valid medical marijuana card, and 2) they should assume that anyone holding such a card uses the drug and is therefore ineligible to make a purchase.
This stance ignited something of a legal firestorm that was ultimately settled in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this past August. Here, the court held that both the determination that marijuana use leads to unpredictable behavior and the determination that holders of medical marijuana cards use the drug were reasonable, and that the ATF’s ban on guns and ammo sales in this context did not violate the Second Amendment.
Emboldened by this favorable ruling, the ATF is now doubling down, electing not to take a permissive approach to marijuana and gun purchases. We’ll explore how exactly in a future post.
In the meantime, if you are under investigation or have been placed under arrest for any sort of federal crime relating to drugs or firearms, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.