A new bill in Congress would protect Second Amendment rights for cannabis consumers by exempting people in legalized states from a federal restriction that bars any “unlawful user” of a controlled substance from owning a firearm.
H.R. 2830, the Gun Rights and Marijuana Act, filed on Thursday by Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and two GOP cosponsors, adds a short provision to existing federal law specifying that “the term ‘unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance’ shall not include a person by reason of unlawful use or addiction to marijuana.”
The exemption would apply only to people who lives in a state or tribal jurisdiction that permits the use of marijuana by adults, and only if they do not violate the local cannabis laws laws. Marijuana would remain a Schedule I controlled substance under the proposal, and the federal restriction against owning firearms would remain in place for consumers of any other drug.
“The federal government has no business unduly restricting responsible citizens from exercising their rights or restricting states from listening to their constituents and reforming marijuana laws,” Young, who is a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said. “The GRAM Act bridges this gap. Given that it deals with both gun and marijuana rights, there really is something for those on both sides of the aisle to support.”
“When I was sworn into Congress, I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. That oath does not mean picking and choosing which Amendments to defend; it requires us as Members of Congress to protect the ENTIRE Bill of Rights,” he said. “There are two main pillars that make this legislation important. First, it protects the Second Amendment for individuals seeking to exercise their Constitutional rights. It also defends the Tenth Amendment right of states to determine their own cannabis laws, as Alaska did in 2014.”
The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), who is an initial cosponsor of the legislation, said “it should be up to individual states to determine their own marijuana laws, not the federal government.”
“The Constitution says nothing about marijuana but the Second Amendment clearly outlines every American’s right to bear arms,” he said.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), the other original cosponsor, said “state-legal marijuana use should not be used as a pretext to bar individuals from purchasing or possessing firearms, which is a clear and well-defined Constitutional right.”Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Under current U.S. law, Americans are forbidden from possessing firearms if they are “an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” as defined under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
While law enforcement does not actively screen gun owners for substance use, a question on a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) form asks would-be gun purchasers: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?” Lying on the form is a felony.
“Gun ownership is a significant part of Alaska’s culture and lifestyle. When my constituents chose to legalize adult-use marijuana, they were not surrendering their Second Amendment rights,” Young said. “At a time when more individuals have been purchasing firearms for self-defense, sportsmanship, hunting, and countless other reasons, we have experienced a surge in state-level cannabis reforms.”
The current federal provision has raised concerns among Second Amendment rights advocates in states that have legalized, or considered legalizing, cannabis for medical or adult use. In 2017, for example, police in Honolulu sent letters to local medical marijuana patients instructing them to “voluntarily surrender” their firearms, a request the department later walked back.
Last year the U.S. Justice Department issued a memo requiring gun dealers in Michigan to conduct federal background checks on all unlicensed gun buyers, asserting that existing practices had enabled “habitual marijuana users” and other disqualified individuals to obtain fire arms illegally.
“Although possession and use of marijuana is not unlawful under Michigan law,” the advisory said, “marijuana remains a ‘controlled substance’ under Federal law, and those using marijuana are prohibited from possessing or transporting a firearm.”
Republicans have often led the charge to protect Second Amendment rights for lawful cannabis consumers. Rep. Andy Mooney (R-KY) introduced a bill last year that would have similarly harmonized state and federal law, but only for patients who use marijuana medically.
In late 2018, another Republican congressman, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), told Marijuana Moment that he was considering a bill to extend Second Amendment protections to all legal marijuana consumers, not just medical patients. No such bill ever materialized, however.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in Congress are working on legislation to fully legalize cannabis at the federal level, a change that would presumably automatically end the restriction on gun ownership by marijuana users without specifically addressing it.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have been working on a bill on their side. Schumer said last week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.” On Monday he told Marijuana Moment that he’s working to push the president in a pro-legalization direction as they draft the measure.
On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.
President Joe Biden, meanwhile, is still not on board with legalization, as confirmed again by the White House press secretary on Tuesday. While the president says he supports allowing states to set their own policies, he feels it should only be decriminalized and rescheduled federally and wants more research to be done if he’s to change his position on broader reform.
Read the full text of the Gun Rights and Marijuana Act below:
Photo courtesy of Heather