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Republican Senator Wants Gun Rights for Marijuana Consumers

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Lisa Murkowski opposed legalizing marijuana in Alaska. But voters there passed a ballot measure to end cannabis prohibition in 2014 and now the Republican who serves the state as its senior U.S. senator wants their wishes to be respected by the federal government.

In particular, Murkowski is concerned about a federal law that seems to prevent people who use marijuana from being able to legally buy and use guns, even if their cannabis consumption is in accordance with state policies.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Murkowski asks the Department of Justice to conduct a review of federal policy on the issue.

“It is my judgement that denying Americans the personal Second Amendment right to possess firearms as articulated by the Supreme Court…for mere use of marijuana pursuant to state law is arbitrarily overbroad and should be narrowed,” the senator writes.

According to federal law:

“It shall be unlawful for any person…who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance…to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.”

A related provision makes it illegal to “sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition” to someone who illegally uses a controlled substance.

As a result, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives requires people purchasing guns from federally licensed dealers to fill out a form which asks, “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 federal felony punishable by up to five years in prison, and Murkowski worries that the growing rift between state and federal marijuana laws could cause confusion and result in people incorrectly answering “no” to the drug question.

“In my judgement the disqualification of an entire class of marijuana users acting consistent with state law from possessing any firearm merits a view of federal legal policy,” she writes. “Without such a review I fear that otherwise law abiding citizens will choose to answer the marijuana use question on Form 4473 [because]either they believe their use is fully lawful or because they believe marijuana use consistent with state law should not subject them to a firearms disability. In either case they would be potentially exposed to criminal liability for false statements.”

Although four states have legalized marijuana for adults over age 21, and 23 states have comprehensive medical cannabis programs, the drug remains strictly illegal under federal law.

Murkowski’s letter, dated March 2, was first reported by DJ Summers of the Alaska Journal, who detailed how deeply ingrained guns are in the state:

As of December 2015, Alaska had 730 federal firearms license holders, about one for every 1,000 residents. According to a Columbia University study released in June 2015, Alaska also has the highest per capita gun ownership in the nation; 61.7 percent of Alaskans own one or more firearms.

Alaska has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation with an entrenched hunting culture both for recreation and subsistence purposes. Alaskans are not required to have a concealed carry permit so long as they are a legal owner under state and federal law, but they must apply for a concealed carry permit if they wish to carry in states where Alaska has reciprocity agreements.

It is expected that four to six additional states may see marijuana legalization initiatives on their ballots this November, with two to four other states considering medical cannabis ballot measures. Separately, state legislatures in Vermont and Rhode Island could pass bills to end marijuana prohibition, and lawmakers in Pennsylvania appear poised to enact a comprehensive medical cannabis program.

Murkowski wrote to Lynch that “proactive efforts should be taken to reconcile inconsistent federal laws with more permissive state laws.”

She has not yet received a response, according to the Alaska Journal.


Photo courtesy of csabacz.

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