As marijuana restrictions loosen around the country, the ATF wants Americans to know users of the drug are still prohibited from owning guns.
On Tuesday, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) clarified what Minnesota’s recent legalization of marijuana means for current and future firearms owners in the state. The agency said the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 bars anyone who unlawfully uses a controlled substance from possessing guns or ammunition. And, while marijuana is now decriminalized in Minnesota and 23 other states, use of the drug is still unlawful under federal law.
“Until marijuana is legalized federally, firearms owners and possessors should be mindful that it remains federally illegal to mix marijuana with firearms and ammunition.” Jeff Reed, an ATF agent, said in a press release.
Although cannabis use is now legal in nearly half of the U.S. states and decriminalized in multiple others, the federal government has not budged on prohibitions surrounding gun and marijuana use. That has sparked efforts by some gun-rights advocates to change the law. Minnesota’s legalization adds momentum to the decriminalization movement and provides further opportunities for gun-rights advocates to challenge the status quo.
“Peaceable users of marijuana have just as much of a right to armed self-defense as everybody else,” the Firearms Policy Coalition tweeted in response to the ATF’s press release.
Advocates and criminal defendants have also begun challenging the restrictions in court, claiming they violate the Second Amendment. Multiple federal judges have recently ruled the ban on marijuana users owning guns unconstitutional. Last month U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone, a George W. Bush appointee, dismissed a case against an El Paso woman who was charged with possessing a gun as an unlawful user of marijuana and with transferring a firearm and ammunition to her husband.
“§ 922(d)(3) does not tie its restrictions on gun use to intoxication or public safety in the way that historical gun regulations did,” Judge Cardone wrote in her opinion. “Nor does it provide the pre-deprivation process that laws disarming dangerous individuals historically required.”
Before Judge Cardone’s decision, a February ruling from U.S. District Judge Patrick Wyrick in Oklahoma found that defendant Michael Harrison’s use of marijuana “is not a constitutionally permissible means of disarming Harrison.” Harrison had been found with the drug and a revolver after being searched at a traffic stop.
These rulings are part of the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision in last summer’s New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen. That case set a new historical test for whether a modern gun law violates the Second Amendment. Federal prohibitions on who can own firearms have since been successfully challenged on multiple fronts, including those subject to domestic violence restraining orders and those under felony indictment.
The constitutionality of banning drug users from owning firearms could soon be challenged further in a noteworthy case surrounding President Joe Biden’s son Hunter. The Justice Department is investigating his 2018 gun purchase because Biden wrote in his memoir that he was “smoking crack every 15 minutes” at the time.
The younger Biden is planning to cite the Second Amendment as a defense if he is charged, according to a recent report in The New York Times. A high-profile case like Biden’s could spark more discussion about how far Second Amendment protections extend or even set a new precedent.