Guns or grass? Firearm-owning marijuana fans in Pa. face choice
The federal government says grass and guns don’t mix, and that is putting gun owners who use marijuana – and the strongly pro-gun-rights administration of President Donald Trump – in a potentially uncomfortable position.
As gun-loving Pennsylvania becomes the latest state to operate a medical-marijuana program, with the first dispensary on track to begin sales next month, authorities are warning patients that federal law bars marijuana users from having guns or ammunition.
“They’re going to have to make a choice,” said John T. Adams, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. “They can have their guns or their marijuana, but not both.”
That’s the official line, but the reality of how the policy might be enforced in Pennsylvania and other states is a little muddier. That includes the question of whether people who already own guns might have to surrender them.
The political sensitivity was underscored Friday when Pennsylvania regulators reversed themselves and announced its registry of medical-pot patients will not be available, as was previously planned, through the state’s law-enforcement computer network.
Phil Gruver, a professional auto detailer from Emmaus who received a state medical marijuana card in mid-December, is weighing what to do with his .22-caliber rifle and a handgun he keeps for home defense.
“It’s a violation of my Second Amendment rights,” Gruver said. “I don’t know of any time anyone’s been using marijuana and going out and committing acts of violence with a gun. Most of the time they just sit on their couch and eat pizza.”
State laws allowing medical or, more recently, recreational use of pot have long been at odds with the federal prohibition on gun ownership by those using marijuana. But the government has traditionally taken a hands-off approach. Since 2014, Congress has forbidden the Department of Justice from spending money to prosecute people who grow, sell and use medical pot.
The picture has become murkier under Trump, a Republican whose attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has long denounced the drug. Sessions recently rescinded a Barack Obama-era policy that was deferential to states’ permissive marijuana laws.
It’s not clear what impact the new policy will have on gun owners who use cannabis as medicine, or even how many people fit the bill. Nor is it clear whether any people who use legally obtained medical marijuana have been prosecuted for owning a gun, although the existence of medical marijuana registries in some states, including Pennsylvania, has some patients concerned.
More than 800,000 guns are sold or transferred in Pennsylvania annually, and more than 10,000 people in the state have signed up for medical marijuana. The registry change Friday makes it much less likely the state’s medical marijuana users will be flagged when going through a federal gun sales background check.
The Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has left no doubt where it stands. Last year, the ATF spelled out the marijuana prohibition in boldface type on gun purchase forms.