Medical Cannabis and the Gun Ownership Problem

Marijuana is a Schedule I substance according to federal law. Furthermore, thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing medical cannabis. Rounding things out are the seventeen states that have okayed recreational use. As you can see, state and federal laws are conflicting.

The conflicts create additional problems that now have to be solved. For example, can medical cannabis users also legally own firearms? The answer is a tricky one. Some experts say yes, others say no. There is no clear-cut answer because federal and state law do not agree.

Cannabis and Firearms in Utah

A good place to observe the conundrum of medical cannabis and firearms is Utah. Being one of the more conservative states in the union, Utah was a latecomer to medical cannabis. Their program did not launch until 2020. Now in full swing, the program is intentionally designed to keep cannabis strictly medical.

Likewise, Utah requires background checks to purchase firearms. On their background check form is a question that asks whether or not a buyer uses any drugs considered illicit under federal law. How is a medical cannabis user supposed to answer? There are only two choices:

  • Yes – Answering ‘yes’ automatically disqualifies the buyer from purchasing firearms.
  • No – Answering ‘no’ amounts to lying on the form. That constitutes a crime under federal law.

State law does not prevent medical cannabis users from purchasing firearms. But federal background checks circumvent the law in Utah. So either way you look at it, medical cannabis users in the state are in a no-win situation when it comes to firearms. The only solution for some users is to buy their firearms via private transactions.

The Straw Buyer Problem

Purchasing firearms through private transactions doesn’t appear to be a big issue on the surface. After all, consenting adults can make responsible decisions, right? Perhaps. But private transactions open the door to straw buyers willing to purchase firearms for complete strangers, for a fee. Straw buying is also illegal under federal law.

There really is no easy answer right now. The only way to fix the problem is to reconcile state and federal laws. That means either rescheduling marijuana or decriminalizing it all together.

It May Be Coming

The people behind Provo Utah’s Deseret Wellness cannabis pharmacy say that legislators in the Beehive State do not want federal decriminalization. They are happy to promote the use of cannabis as a medicine; they don’t want to see the state go full recreational. But would they be able to stop it if Washington decriminalized the drug?

It turns out that decriminalization might be coming whether Utah legislators like it or not. The House of Representatives already passed one decriminalization bill in 2020. It did not make it through the Senate due to the GOP advantage. But now that the Senate is split, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie vote, there is a good chance the next decriminalization bill makes it through.

For the time being, medical cannabis users looking to purchase firearms do not have an easy time of it in most states. Federal background check and laws against straw buying are seeing to that. The whole thing is rather unfortunate for the simple fact that it doesn’t have to be this way. A rescheduling compromise eliminates a lot of problems while giving both sides a little bit of what they want.

Can medical cannabis users purchase firearms? It depends on who you ask and how you go about it. If you are going to possess firearms as a medical cannabis user, retain a lawyer.

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