Guns are a divisive issue among stoners just like everyone else. But unlike everyone else, stoners are legally barred from owning guns. And I, for one, am fine with that.
The Federal Law
In September 2011, the ATF released a letter to federal firearm licensees addressing the burgeoning issue of medical cannabis and firearms.
“Federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(G)(3), prohibits any person who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802))” from shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition.”
Cannabis is still listed in the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I controlled substance. The Federal government hasn’t made any exceptions in Federal law for cannabis, whether or not it’s legal medically or recreationally in your state.
This is essentially regulated by self-reporting. When a firearm is purchased, the ATF Form 4473, Firearms Transaction Record must be filed.
Section 11. E. of the form reads, “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?” It also includes this stipulation: “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.”
And then the buyer checks yes or no. So obviously, responsible gun owners who smoke weed every day are just like, “Oh shit, guess I can’t own a gun, whoopsy!” Problem solved.
Except most people don’t do that, and if they buy a gun from an unlicensed dealer, they might be able to get away with not filling the form out altogether.
Washington State Law
Gun laws are pretty complex and hard to decipher. RCW 9.41.113 Firearm sales or transfers—Background checks—Requirements—Exceptions, explains the laws surrounding gun transfers from unlicensed dealers, and they are pretty convoluted.
When asked for clarification on the law, the Washington State Attorney General’s Office responded, “Our office generally does not offer interpretations of state law outside of client advice or AG Opinions.”
There are no state-run Department of Firearms or gun license offices where you can go get a state-issued gun license and transfer gun titles. It’s all done via private licensed firearms dealers. And in some cases unlicensed firearms dealers.
But whether or not people lie on form 4473, or don’t fill it out at all, plenty of cannabis smokers are bypassing the law and getting their hands on guns. And there is a lot of data to support the fact that guns and cannabis don’t mix.
Cannabis, Guns, and Suicide
According to the CDC’s study “Surveillance for Violent Deaths — National Violent Death Reporting System, 27 States, 2015,” 39% of suicide decedents were tested for cannabis use. Of those tested 22.4% of decedents tested positive for cannabis. That was third only to alcohol (a whopping 40.6%) and opioids (26.6%).
Those suicides weren’t all from guns. But it’s been proven time and time again that those with guns in the home are more likely to complete a suicide. According to the CDC out of 47, 413 total suicides in 2017, 23,854 were completed with firearms. Study after study has shown that having easy access to a firearm makes you more likely to be a victim of suicide or homicide.
The fact is, depressed people use drugs including cannabis, and depressed people also kill themselves. These studies don’t prove cannabis and gun ownership alone lead to suicide. But guns, without any shadow of a doubt, make it easier to successfully take your own life. And any substance that impairs your judgment does not pair well with firearms for this reason.
Cannabis, Guns, and Accidental Firearm Injuries
Suicide isn’t the only risk associated with firearms and cannabis. The study, “Unintentional Firearm Injuries Remain Prevalent Over a 12 Year Experience at a Rural Midwestern Level 1 Trauma Center,” concludes:
“Our data set indicates 71% of hunters and 55% of patients with self-inflicted injuries had alcohol and/ or drugs in their system,” the study reads. “Alcohol and drug use have widely been accepted as lubricants to unintentional trauma.”
The above study didn’t include statistics on cannabis specifically. Using cannabis with guns present may very well increase your risk of being injured by a firearm, however.
According to, “An Evidence-Based Review of Acute and Long-Term Effects of Cannabis Use on Executive Cognitive Functions,” cannabis users had slower response times in decision-making scenarios, were more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior, and were more impulsive than the control group. In other words, stoners might not be the best candidates to handle firearms.
Of course, not everyone shares my viewpoint. Cannabis influencer and outspoken second amendment rights advocate Bess Byers shared her views on gun ownership and cannabis with The Sesh.
“It’s hypocritical to deny a citizen their second amendment right just because they consume a plant, whether it’s medically or recreationally,” Byers stated. “While we have people who are allowed to consume alcohol and own firearms, and people who are allowed to consume pharmaceuticals and own firearms. So why are we going to deny people their right because of a plant?”
Byers also brought up the 1981 Court of Appeals case “Warren v. District of Columbia.” The court ruled in this case that the police have no sworn duty to protect citizens. Byers believes this is evidence that cannabis users require firearms to protect themselves.
“If you have people who are home-growing who’s not to say that the person down the street isn’t going to come in and rob them or kill them,” Byers asks. “Look at the shops in Washington that are cash-based? We have people coming in and robbing these shops at gunpoint because they know they can’t defend themselves.”
Cannabis and Crime
There has been an issue with robbery for Washington state cannabis producers and retailers, that is undeniable. There is no data kept on cannabis business robberies in Washington state specifically. Law enforcement agencies report all of the crimes as specialty store robberies, in with electronic stores, etcetera. The number of break-in robberies vs. gunpoint robberies is also difficult to discern. The Seattle Police Department, Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, and the Washington Association of Sherrif’s and Police Chiefs didn’t have data on these specifics.
A quick search of media reports shows a larger problem with break-ins when businesses are closed, versus gunpoint robbery situations. Though plenty of retailers are robbed at gunpoint. That said, many non-cannabis related businesses such as restaurants and convenience stores are robbed at gunpoint each year. And many of those businesses are legally able to carry guns if they choose to.
The reason people are robbing cannabis retailers and producers isn’t simply that they don’t have guns. It’s mostly because they have a bunch of cash. This is a much better argument for allowing cannabis businesses access to banking than for arming them.
Most cannabis advocates would argue that legal cannabis has made the industry safer, not the other way around. Cannabis legalization sought to reduce violent crime associated with cannabis. Which is why guns were taken out of the equation. I see no viable evidence that adding more guns into the scenario will reduce the risk of these crimes occurring.
Where I do agree with Byers, is on the alcohol and pharmaceutical issue. Guns and alcohol make an even more deadly cocktail than cannabis and guns. Pharmaceuticals and firearms also don’t make a great combo. It is hypocritical to allow one and not the other.
But how would these issues possibly be regulated? The simple answer: I have no clue.
My point isn’t that I think this should or should not be further enforced or legislated. Especially because black and brown folks will unfairly bear the brunt of any enforcement. I just think stoners owning guns is bad news. That’s my hot take, make of it what you will.