On Wednesday afternoon, Colorado Senators will discuss a bill aimed at restoring gun and privacy rights to the state’s 86,000-plus registered medical cannabis patients. Since Colorado became the first state to legalize adult-use cannabis, it has barred many marijuana consumers from obtaining firearm permits. The issue has sharply divided gun rights advocates, prompting several failed campaigns to change the state’s policy on cannabis use and gun ownership.
Now, Colorado lawmakers want to give medical marijuana users access to guns again. And the bill that would restore those rights would also prevent sheriffs—the group that most supports the gun ban on cannabis users—from using the medical marijuana registry during background checks.
Bi-Partisan Bill Aims to Restore Gun Rights to Colorado Medical Marijuana Patients
Since Colorado legalized cannabis in 2012, gun owners have faced a tough ultimatum from local sheriffs: give up your green, or give up your gun. Depending on what county you live in, the application for a firearm permit or a concealed carry permit asks whether the applicant uses marijuana or any other illegal substance. Answer yes, and chances are your permit will be denied.
In Colorado, county sheriffs have the final say on issuing, denying, or revoking concealed handgun permits. And they say they’re denying cannabis consumers gun permits because federal law requires them to. In 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) sent states directives to keep guns out of the hands of cannabis consumers. Cannabis is of course prohibited as a Schedule I substance under federal law. Therefore, it’s impossible for anyone to be a “lawful” user of cannabis; from the federal government’s point of view, there are only “unlawful” users.
“Under federal law marijuana is still a controlled substance, meaning that people who are marijuana users are not able to lawfully possess a firearm regardless of the state laws,” said Lisa Mieman, a spokesperson for the ATF’s Denver field division.
Unlawful use of cannabis or any other controlled substance is cause enough to deny or revoke a gun permit. It may even be enough to deny a gun purchase. But applicants fill out their forms under oath. Legally, they have to admit to their state-legal cannabis use.
Recognizing the bind those forms put gun owners and legal cannabis users in, the group Guns for Everyone launched a campaign in 2015 to remove the language referring to “federal law” from any gun permit application. The effort was unsuccessful.
If Passed, Colorado Senate Bill Would Clarify Medical Cannabis Users Aren’t “Unlawful”
Colorado SB 19-093 won’t restore gun rights to all of Colorado’s legal cannabis consumers. For now, lawmakers are just focusing on giving access to guns back to medical marijuana patients. The bill has three major provisions. First, it clarifies that county sheriffs can’t prohibit someone from possessing a firearm if they have a prior conviction for possessing or using cannabis legally in Colorado. Second, the bill would block sheriffs from considering a medical cannabis patient to be an “unlawful user” of a controlled substance. And third, the bill would prevent public safety officials from sharing confidential information about a person’s medical cannabis use with law enforcement for the purpose of conducting a background check related to a firearms transfer.
In sum, the bill would ensure that medical cannabis use is no longer a sufficient reason to deny a person’s right to possess a firearm in Colorado.
The fact that SB 19-093 is currently under consideration in the State, Veterans and Military Affairs senate committee shouldn’t be overlooked. As a group, veterans can benefit tremendously from legal medical cannabis. Cannabis can be an effective treatment for chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues impacting veterans.
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