The Corner

Guns or Marijuana? A New Choice for Many

Among the many problems that the federal/state marijuana-standoff is now causing: access to constitutional rights.

Federal law dictates that Americans buying firearms from licensed dealers are required to fill in a form — Form 4473 – which asks the following question: “(11E) Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant or narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?” For many Americans, this is now a difficult inquiry to answer. In Washington and Colorado it is no longer unlawful to use marijuana for any reason; and, in a bunch of other states, medical patients are permitted to do so under strict regulation. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, however, all of these people are breaking the law. This has led to something of an impasse.

Form 4473 is a federal form. This means that, in practice, pot smokers who wish to buy firearms have a problem. If they tick “Yes,” their transaction will be declined. If they tick “No,” they will be lying to the federal government – felony that carries up to a five year prison sentence. Practically speaking, Coloradans and Washingtonians are thus faced with a choice: They can either smoke marijuana or they can buy a gun — but they can’t do both. Now, obviously, one shouldn’t get high and then play with firearms. But this isn’t really the question at hand. One shouldn’t get drunk and play with firearms either, and yet being a regular drinker does not prohibit one from buying a gun. Indeed, being an alcoholic doesn’t disqualify one either. 

In the short term, the federal government should change Form 4473 to prevent any instances in which Americans are denied their guaranteed rights — perhaps the question could read, Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant or narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance that is illegal in your state of residence?” In the long term, the federal government should get out of this area completely. This really is a textbook example of what happens when Washington D.C. fails to respect the integrity of the federal system (which can only work properly if the federal government allows the states to decide questions such as this one on their own), and, too, of what happens when governments start usurping powers that they were never afforded (regulating drugs) at the expense of rights that they were explicitly prohibited from touching (the right to bear arms).