Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday indicated that federal marijuana laws “may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government’s piecemeal approach” to regulating the drug. His take could have a drastic impact on gun laws.
Thomas’ views were expressed in an opinion on a case the high court declined to hear. In the case, known as Standing Akimbo, LLC v. United States, a medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado sued because the IRS won’t allow it to take the same tax deductions as other businesses because it’s involved in “trafficking in controlled substances.”
According to Thomas, federal laws are all over the board, especially as states move to decriminalize and legalize the medical and/or recreational use of weed.
“Once comprehensive, the Federal Government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana,” Thomas wrote. “This contradictory and unstable state of affairs strains basic principles of federalism and conceals traps for the unwary.”
As Thomas indicates, the laws surrounding marijuana can be confusing to many people. Although it’s still a federal crime to use and possess marijuana, a number of states, like California, Washington and Colorado, have legalized and decriminalized its use.
A local cop can pull a resident over, find weed in the car, but not charge them for possession. But if a federal agent, like one from the DEA or ATF, comes into contact with that same person, he or she would face federal drug charges.
Thomas’ thoughts on marijuana legalization are important, especially as it pertains to guns. As of now, an FFL will deny someone with a state-issued medical marijuana card based on ATF policy. The feds know card holders use marijuana, which – you guessed it – labels them as a prohibited possessor. That card is undeniable proof and can show up in a background check.
If a person decides to use marijuana while also utilizing their gun rights, he or she could face 10 years in prison. Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I substance by the federal government. According to the DEA, Schedule I substances have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
The Schedule I classification, in itself, is hotly contested. Multiple studies from the NIH have found that two-thirds of all marijuana patients with chronic pain benefited from using the drug. That means marijuana could be accepted for medical use.
The area that trips up many people, however, is question 21.e on the 4473 form:
Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?
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.
When a person goes to their local gun store to purchase a firearm, he or she has to check that box on the 4473 form asking whether or not they use any form of marijuana. Checking “yes” results in an automatic denial. Checking “no” — if it’s a lie — can result in 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
The disconnect between local, state, and federal marijuana laws means a person could be following state law while violating federal law. It also means he or she has to choose between recreational use of marijuana and their gun rights.
It’s a legal trap that’s all too easy to fall into for many who are unaware of the federal prohibition.
And that’s why Justice Thomas’s opinion is significant. He has long been among the most conservative Justices on the Court. But his opinion puts him to the left of President Biden on weed use.
Given his conservative bona fides, Thomas’ opinion on a topic like marijuana legalization carries a lot of weight. Legislators who have opposed decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level could be swayed by his opinion as much of the country has trended that way over the past decade.
Whatever you think of marijuana use, a change in federal law would benefit hundreds of thousands — maybe millions — of otherwise legal gun owners and their right to keep and bear arms.