Dem lawmaker wants to help pot smokers lock and load

Greg Campbell | Contributor

Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis introduced a bill in Congress last week that would allow people who legally smoke marijuana in states to also own guns.

In 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent an open letter to all federally-licensed gun sellers, warning them that it’s illegal for anyone who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” to own a gun or ammunition.

The memo was in response to the growing number of states that allow people to use marijuana for medical purposes.

But although marijuana can be legally used for medical purposes in 20 states and Washington, D.C. — and adults in Colorado and Washington can use it recreationally — it remains prohibited under federal law.

The memo made clear that “regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medical reasons,” owning a firearm is prohibited. Many legal marijuana users grow their own pot and keeping a gun to protect the crop from thieves — as well as their cash — is commonplace.

But many have also seen weapons charges added to federal marijuana charges during raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which automatically enhance their sentences.

When Montana dispensary operator Chris Williams was raided by federal agents in 2012, he faced additional charges for having legal shotguns present in his grow operation, which is legal under Montana law. Because of the enhancement, he faced 85 years in prison, according to the Missoulian, although he was sentenced to five.

The only way for a gun seller to know if a potential customer uses marijuana, whether medically or recreationally, is for the buyer to answer “yes” to a question on the ATF’s Firearms Transaction Report that asks, “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?”

Polis’ bill is intended to to amend the law “to provide exceptions from the firearm prohibitions otherwise applicable in relation to marijuana if its possession is lawful under State law.”

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