Until Recreational Cannabis is federally legalized, pot users cannot own guns
The federal agency that regulates the firearms industry sent an advisory on Tuesday warning that Minnesotans who use marijuana cannot legally own firearms, despite a new state law legalizing recreational use.
Marijuana for adults is now legal in 23 states and even more have medical cannabis programs. But it's still a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law on par with LSD and heroin.
The St. Paul office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives noted that distinction. It means people who smoke weed or take marijuana edibles are "still federally defined as an 'unlawful user' of a controlled substance," and therefore are "prohibited from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing firearms or ammunition," the agency said in its release Tuesday.
"Until marijuana is legalized federally, firearms owners and possessors should be mindful that it remains federally illegal to mix marijuana with firearms and ammunition," said Jeff Reed, ATF's acting special agent in charge of the of the St. Paul field division.
That warning from the ATF is concerning for Second Amendment rights advocate Rob Doar, vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus. He said he's long been aware of the state-and-federal cannabis contradiction, whether it's for medical or recreational use.
Doar urges gun owners to be aware of the risks, even though under Minnesota's new law, sheriffs cannot deny someone a permit to carry solely because they are enrolled in the medical cannabis program or are an adult using marijuana.
He pushed for the inclusion of that language.
"I think if [the ATF agents] weren't planning on enforcing it, they may have just let it go and it would kind of be a wink-wink, nudge-nudge that yes it's illegal, but much like other federal cannabis prohibitions, we're not going to be enforcing it," Doar said. "The fact that they sent out the notice is cause for some raised eyebrows."
Jason Tarasek, a cannabis attorney for Vicente LLP, said the federal government has generally turned a blind eye and has "left states alone" that have legalized marijuana. But he acknowledged the challenge for gun owners.
"It's an interesting song and dance we're going through with the federal government," he said.
He and Doar both want some clarity coming out of Washington, whether that's through Congress or executive action in the Biden Administration.
"It would be great to get some clearer guidance from the federal government that would make people in legal markets more comfortable that they don't need to be worried about the federal government knocking at their door," he said.
But he doesn't think there will be federal legalization anytime soon.
The Obama Administration a decade ago issued guidance, saying the Department of Justice would not interfere in states that had legalized marijuana if it didn't interfere with their law enforcement priorities. Then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions under President Trump rescinded it.