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As states legalize medical marijuana, some have a choice to make: Guns or weed

Posted at 11:59 AM, Jul 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-26 09:02:07-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Medical marijuana is legal in some form in 37 states throughout the country. But as more people apply for medical marijuana licenses, they'll have to decide between medicinal weed and their guns.

That's because federal law doesn't permit legal gun ownership for medical marijuana users.

Gun possession and cannabis is a conversation that continues to come up in the medical marijuana industry and within law enforcement. In a state like Missouri, where officials are preparing to allow the sale of medical marijuana after voters passed a measure on the ballot, guns and weed is a gray area.

"There is no exception for medical use of marijuana," said Jon Ham, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Kansas City, Missouri. "If you are going to use marijuana for medical purposes after it becomes legal in Missouri and you are a firearms owner, you need to transfer the ownership of the firearms."

Three years ago, the ATF added a revision to the required gun-purchase form, which clarifies that marijuana possession and use remains illegal under federal law.

"Warning: 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," the form reads.

Lying on the form is a federal offense.

While the Missouri concealed carry permit doesn't ask about drug use, Ham said federal law trumps that.

Just having a medical marijuana card is grounds for a gun dealer to deny a gun-purchase application because it provides a reason to believe the individual uses a controlled substance.

Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug with no medical use under federal law, and the Drug Enforcement Agency treats it the same way it does heroin and LSD.

Forest Palmer with Hemp Haven in Lee's Summit, Missouri said there is a gray area because some people may get a card but do not use marijuana for a variety of reasons. They could be working at a shop, or they could be a caregiver.

"I know a lot of people have kind of been taking that approach of, 'I can answer this honestly, because I'm using a legal drug in my state,'" Palmer said. "Therefore, they don't look at it as an issue."

Palmer wished the federal government would adopt that same stance.

"It's because we've had this bias or this stigma with cannabis for so long, and we haven't had that stigma with alcohol or opioids," Palmer said.

Of course, medical marijuana users probably don't need to worry about ATF gun sweeps or house raids.

"The ATF is not changing our enforcement strategy," Ham said. "We're tasked by Congress to go after the most violent criminals in our communities."

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which will oversee medical marijuana in the state, has it won't distribute the database of people who receive a medical marijuana card, citing privacy issues.

However, the Missouri State Highway Patrol say they will have limited access to this database.

For example, if a trooper pulls someone over and finds marijuana in the car, the trooper will be able to verify whether the driver has a legal medical marijuana card.

A card won't protect that individual from all possible charges. Being under the influence while operating a motor vehicle or while possessing a gun remains illegal.

This story was originally published by Sarah Plake on KSHB in Kansas City.