In Colorado, can you own a gun if you use marijuana?
The feds say no. State law is silent. And updated language from the federal department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on its gun-transaction paperwork has people once again talking about the conflict between Colorado law and federal law.
This week, the ATF said it will issue a new form that gun buyers must fill out when purchasing a firearm.
The form, which takes effect Jan. 16, 2017, includes an added warning that reads: “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.”
That warning follows original language in the form that requires a buyer to answer yes or no to a question about whether he or she is “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.”
The AFT is required to update its forms every few years, says Lisa Meiman, a spokeswoman for the Denver division of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“And since there have been so many changes to state laws since 2012 when it was last updated we took the opportunity to remind everybody what federal law has to say about marijuana use and gun ownership,” she says.
The updated warning underscores an existing conflict between state and federal laws. Multiple states have since followed Colorado’s lead in legalizing recreational marijuana, including California, Massachusetts and Nevada.
In decades past, “this wasn’t an issue because marijuana wasn’t legal anywhere,” says David Kopel, a Colorado attorney who has written books and articles about gun laws and the Second Amendment. “So they are updating the form to raise an issue that applies to people all over the country.”
But, he says, the updated language does not change anything regarding Colorado law versus federal law.
And that’s where the issue gets sticky.
Colorado law doesn’t say whether someone of the appropriate age can carry a legal firearm and a legal amount of marijuana at the same time, John Jackson, the chief of police for Greenwood Village and a former director of the state police chief’s association has said.
“If they’re 21 and they’ve got a joint, and a gun on their hip, there’s no issue there,” he told The Independent in September.
But the ATF, clearly, has a different perspective.
“Under federal law, a marijuana user cannot legally possess a firearm,” Meiman told The Independent. Not even in Colorado where marijuana is legal to have and use.
And now the ATF form will be even more clear on that point.
The feds also likely want to dispel someone from saying they were confused when filling out the form, says Tony Fabian, an attorney who has helped draft firearms legislation in Colorado.
“It’s just ATF basically taking that defense away from people,” he says, especially for those who might use marijuana for medical purposes and assume their state laws give them cover.
So, to recap: Can you lawfully have a gun in Colorado— say, a shotgun passed down to you by your uncle— and also be in possession of marijuana at the same time? The answer depends upon whom you ask. Or, more importantly, who catches you doing it.